Doctors treating Nelson Mandela have denied that the anti-apartheid icon was in a “permanent vegetative state”.
In a formal statement the South African government also quashed the claim that a life support machine was keeping Mr Mandela alive in hospital.
“We confirm our earlier statement released this afternoon (Thursday) after President Jacob Zuma visited Madiba (Mandela) in hospital that Madiba remains in a critical but stable condition,” said a spokesman for the Presidency.
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“The doctors deny that the former president is in a vegetative state.
“Mandela remains under the care of a multi-disciplinary panel of South African medical experts,” the statement said.
The announcement follows the publication of court papers submitted to a closed hearing last week by a lawyer acting for Mr Mandela’s oldest daughter Makaziwe during a court battle with his oldest grandson Mandla.
“He is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life support machine,” read the document.
“The Mandela family have been advised by the medical practitioners that his life-support machine should be switched off. Rather than prolonging his suffering, the Mandela family is exploring this option as a very real probability.”
Court proceedings are taking place as former South African president Nelson Mandela, 94, reaches nearly a month in a Pretoria hospital since he was admitted on 8 June with a recurring lung infection.
The document was leaked as members of Mr Mandela’s large family engaged in a dramatic conflict about the family’s burial places.
Three graves of Mandela’s children – his eldest son Makgato, his first daughter Makaziwe who died as a child, and Mandela’s second son Thembekile – were exhumed following a controversial court case.
They were re-interred 15 miles away on Wednesday in Mandela’s home village of Qunu where he wishes to buried.
His former ally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called on the family not to “besmirch” his name.
“Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves. It’s almost like spitting in Madiba’s face,” Tutu said in a statement released on Thursday night.
Mandela’s reported desire to be buried next to his children lies at the heart of the family dispute.