Let Mandela go, friend tells nation
Prison comrade wishes anti-apartheid hero well but says the time to say goodbye is near
A close friend of Nelson Mandela has urged South Africans to let go of their beloved hero after the ailing 94-year-old was admitted to hospital with a recurrent pneumonia infection.
Mandela's latest bout of illness was splashed across yesterday's press, but officials have released no updates since announcing he was in hospital early on Saturday and in a "serious but stable" condition.
"It's time to let him go," was the front-page headline in the Sunday Times with a picture of the former statesman smiling and waving.
"We wish Madiba a speedy recovery, but I think what is important is that his family must release him," old friend Andrew Mlangeni, 87, told the newspaper, using Mandela's clan name.
It is Mandela's fourth hospital stay since December and comes weeks after he was discharged for the same lung infection.
"Quite clearly you are not well and there is a possibility you might not be well again," said Mlangeni.
"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," said Mlangeni, who did time with Mandela in apartheid prison.
Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, has been at his bedside after calling off a trip to London.
Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj said on Saturday that Mandela, who turns 95 next month, was breathing on his own, which was "a positive side".
"The truth of the matter is a simple one. Madiba is a fighter and at his age as long as he is fighting, he'll be fine," he said.
Mandela continued to trigger a buzz on Twitter yesterday. "No one lasts forever. But I really wish there was an exception for #Mandela," tweeted one user.
The Nobel peace laureate is revered as a symbol of forgiveness after embracing his former jailers following decades of apartheid rule.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Mandela was in his thoughts, while the White House has sent good wishes.
Mandela was receiving care at his Johannesburg home when his lung problems returned.
He was diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988 and has also had treatment for prostate cancer and suffered stomach ailments. In December, Mandela spent 18 days in hospital, his longest stint since walking free from 27 years in jail in 1990.
In March he was admitted for a scheduled check-up before returning that month for 10 days.
Still a powerful symbol of peace and unity, Mandela has not been seen in public since the World Cup final in July 2010. TV footage in April showed a frail, distant and unsmiling Mandela being visited at home by ANC leaders, sparking accusations that his party was exploiting him.
The African National Congress - facing elections next year - has lost much of its Mandela shine amid corruption, poverty and poor public services.