The June 26 court filing, obtained by AFP, shows for the first time just how close the still critically-ill 94-year-old came to death. "He is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life support machine," lawyers said on behalf of 15 family members, including his wife and three daughters.
"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." Family lawyer Wesley Hayes said that the document was part of an effort to have a court urgently hear a dispute over the final resting place of three of Mandela's children, who were reburied amid a fierce family dispute today.
Since the document was filed, the South African government, family members and Mandela's close friends have reported an improvement in his condition. "He is clearly a very ill man, but he was conscious and he tried to move his mouth and eyes when I talked to him," Denis Goldberg, one of the men who was convicted with Mandela, said after visiting him today.
"He is definitely not unconscious," Goldberg said, adding that "he was aware of who I was." Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj refused to comment on the documents, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.
"We have indicated from our point of view that based on the doctors' report, the condition of the former president is critical but stable at this stage." On the day the court document was written President Jacob Zuma reported that Mandela's health had faltered and he cancelled a trip to Mozambique. The next day the president said his condition had "improved during the course of the night". "It is not evidence but merely submissions on why a matter should be heard outside court sittings."