Nelson Mandela's Family Spars Amid Conflicting Media Reports on His Health

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Nelson Mandela

UPDATED: South African President Jacob Zuma says the ailing icon remains in "critical but stable" condition as a new court document claims he's on life support.

The family of Nelson Mandela is embroiled in a feud over where the ailing anti-apartheid hero will be buried.

Meanwhile, the status of the former South African president's health remains unclear amid conflicting media reports. According to the BBC, Mandela, 94, is in "critical but stable condition" at a hospital in the city of Pretoria, where he was admitted earlier this month with a lung infection.

He is "receiving the best medical care from a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals who are at his bedside around the clock," the country's president, Jacob Zuma, said Thursday in a statement, after visiting Mandela in the hospital. 

But also on Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported that doctors advised Mandela's family to take him off life support as he was in a "permanent vegetative state." In a court document filed June 26, attorneys for 15 of Mandela's relatives, including his wife and three daughters, wrote: "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."

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A week after the filing, Mandela's health has reportedly improved, according to the AFP, citing the statesman's family and friends. A family lawyer said the document was submitted as part of a strategy to speed up court proceedings concerning a feud over the gravesites of three of Mandela's children, whose bodies were exhumed and reburied Thursday, widening a rift between family members.

Mandela's representative, Mac Maharaj, did not respond to The Hollywood Reporter's request for comment.  

A report from the U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper quotes Maharaj as saying, "I have not seen the court records, and the president is not part of the court action. We have reported even today as a result of President Zuma's visit that [Mandela] remains in a critical but stable condition, and that is based on Mr. Zuma going to the hospital and being briefed by the doctors. Certainly in that statement, there is no suggestion that he is in a vegetative state."

A statement on Zuma's official website reiterated Thursday: "The doctors deny that the former President is in a vegetative state."

Earlier this week, a court decreed that the bodies of Mandela's three deceased children should be moved to a hillside site where he is expected to be buried when he dies. The dispute pitted most of Mandela's relatives against his grandson Mandla Mandela, who two years ago removed the remains from the town of Qunu and transferred them to the nearby Mvezo, where he has opened a visitor center.


Twitter: @ErinLCarlson