South Africa presidency denies Mandela in "permanent vegetative state"

Portrait dated 08 February 1991 of Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member, during a press conference he is holding one year after his release from jail. ANC leader spent 28 years in jail. TREVOR SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 4:59 p.m. ET

The South African presidency denied a report Thursday that former South Africa President Nelson Mandela was in a "permanent vegetative state."

Government officials were responding to a report by Agence France-Press, which had obtained court documents that detailed the condition of the anti-apartheid leader.

"We confirm our earlier statement released this afternoon after President Jacob Zuma visited Madiba in hospital that Madiba remains in a critical, but stable condition," presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said, referring to Mandela by his tribal name. "The doctors deny that the former President is in a vegetative state."

Documents dated June 26, according to screenshots taken by the AFP, say Mandela's breathing is being mechanically assisted.

According to the documents, the Mandela family has "been advised by the medical practitioners that his life support machine should be switched off" due to the "perilous" state of his health. The person whose name appears at the end of the documents, D.A. Smith, wrote that the life-support information came from "my instructing attorney" and not directly from the Mandela family. "Rather than prolonging his suffering, the Mandela family is exploring this option as a very real probability," the documents say.

CBS News has previously reported that Mandela has been on life support for some time during his nearly four-week hospitalization and that his family members haven't been able to come to an agreement on how much medical intervention to provide the 94-year-old global icon.

Text from legal filings related to a family dispute about the burial of Mandela's deceased children.
Text from legal filings related to a family dispute about the burial of Mandela's deceased children.
Agence France-Presse

The papers, obtained by the wire service Thursday, were part of a legal filing related to a family dispute over the burial of three of Mandela's deceased children.

Mandela has been hospitalized since June 8 for a recurring lung infection. Since then, South African authorities and Mandela's family have been providing the public with limited but grim news about his ailing health. Zuma most recently said he was in critical but stable condition.

His wife, Graca Machel, said at a fundraising drive in honor of her husbandthat he is sometimes uncomfortable but seldom feels pain.

"Whatever is the outcome of his stay in hospital, that will remain the second time where he offered his nation an opportunity to be united under the banner of our flag, under the banner of our constitution," she said.

The bitter family feud about the former South African president's children concluded with a ceremony on Thursday. Remains of the three deceased children were reburied at their original resting site a day after a court ordered their return and two years after a Mandela grandson had moved the bodies.

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years during white racist rule and was freed in 1990 before being elected president in all-race elections. He won the Nobel Peace Prize along with former President F.W. de Klerk.

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