“He’s like one in a million. I don’t think we’re ever going to get a leader like him. We’re living the life that we have because of him and for that we wish him well,” said Seponono Kekana, who toured the brick, one-storey house.
On April 29, state television broadcast footage of a visit by Zuma and other leaders of the ruling African National Congress to Mandela’s home. Zuma said at the time that Mandela was in good shape, but the footage – the first public images of Mandela in nearly a year – showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Zuma tried to hold his hand.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been particularly vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his long imprisonment. The bulk of that period was spent on Robben Island, an outpost off the coast of Cape Town where Mandela and other prisoners spent part of the time toiling in a stone quarry.
The Sunday Times, a South African newspaper, quoted Andrew Mlangeni, an old friend of Mandela, as saying he wished the former president would get better but noted his infirmity had become a drawn-out process. He said Mandela had been taken to the hospital “too many times” and that there was a possibility he would not be well again.
“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,” said Mlangeni, a co-defendant of Mandela in the 1960s trial on sabotage charges that led to a sentence of life imprisonment for them and other anti-apartheid leaders.
“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 told the newspaper.
Nhlanhla Ngcobobo, a street vendor who works a few steps from the Mandela Family Restaurant next to the former leader’s old home, said the ailing Mandela was a kind of psychological anchor for his compatriots. South Africa has held peaceful elections since 1994 and remains an economic powerhouse on the continent, but many worry that the sense of promise that Mandela represented in the early years of democracy is in peril.
“There’s a lot of corruption and when Mandela dies, people will start feeling they can do what they like and corruption will be worse than it is,” Ngcobobo said. “By him being alive, there’s a lot more order.”