Nelson Mandela spent a second day in hospital on Sunday as one of his oldest friends broke a national taboo by urging his family to "release him".
The 94-year-old was taken to hospital in the early hours of Saturday morning with a recurring lung infection and was described as "serious but stable". On Sunday his daughter Zindzi struck an upbeat note, saying: "I've seen my father and he's well. He's a fighter."
But the country's best-selling weekly newspaper, the Sunday Times, carried the front page headline: "It's time to let him go." The paper quoted Andrew Mlangeni, a fellow veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and former Robben Island prisoner, as saying: "We wish Madiba a speedy recovery, but I think what is important is that his family must release him.
"You have been coming to the hospital too many times. Quite clearly you are not well and there is a possibility you might not be well again."
Mlangeni, 88, a co-defendant with Mandela in the 1960s Rivonia trial, continued: "The family must release him so that God may have his own way. They must release him spiritually and put their faith in the hands of God. Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow. We will say thank you, God, you have given us this man, and we will release him too."
Mlangeni's intervention breached a near untouchable subject that many in South Africa, including senior leaders, have seemed unwilling to face: Mandela is mortal and cannot, and perhaps should not, be kept alive at all costs. There was controversy in April when the South African president, Jacob Zuma, led a delegation to Mandela's house and posed for TV cameras while the nonagenarian sat frail and unsmiling.
On Saturday one Twitter user, Hlomla Dandala, posed the question: "When we are called to 'pray for Mandela' as a nation, what is it we are praying for? For him to live(in pain) or die(so he can rest)?"
But in two of the places most closely associated with Mandela, Soweto township and Qunu village, people seem anything but willing to let him go. In Soweto hundreds gathered at the Regina Mundi church, where the former president is portrayed in stained glass with arms raised, to pray for his recovery. Father Sebastian Rousso said he played a key role "not only for ourselves as South Africans, but for the world".
Mantsho Moralo, a receptionist who was in the congregation, told the Associated Press: "We still need him in our lives because he did so much for us." Siyabonga Nyembe, a student, described Mandela as a pillar of strength for South Africans.
In Qunu, where Mandela spent his childhood and much of his retirement, anxiety was equally keen. Boniwe Matikinca, 42, said: "Everybody would like him to be healthy. I don't know why, but I just hope that he stays well.
"I am not ready to say goodbye. We as a community are not ready. Maybe God will make a plan and we will still be able to see him here in the village again. People here live to be 100, so maybe he can too."
Nomaova Habe, 74, said: "We are worried, because there is so much Madiba has done for us as his community.
"He used to throw Christmas parties and give presents to the children, and he even gave local children new school uniforms at one stage. But things like that don't happen any more since his health has failed."
Gloria Habe, 44, the granddaughter of Mandela's half-brother, Solomon, said: "People here in Qunu understand that he is old and this happens to someone his age, but at the same time they don't want him to die."
On Sunday members of Mandela's family were seen visiting the Pretoria hospital where his wife Graça Machel is at his bedside. They included Makaziwe Mandela, the eldest of his three surviving children, and Ndileka Mandela, one of his 17 grandchildren.
Published by UCANews on June 10th, 2013.