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Mandela on life support, faces ‘impending death’

  • Family members of  former President Nelson Mandela carry a coffin of a deceased child to be buried near his house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

    Family members of former President Nelson Mandela carry a coffin of a deceased child to be buried near his house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Family members of  former South African President Nelson Mandela carry a coffin of a deceased child to be buried near his house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

    Family members of former South African President Nelson Mandela carry a coffin of a deceased child to be buried near his house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • The hearse, foreground centre,  carrying the remains of family members of  former President Nelson Mandela drive to the grave site, with Nelson Mandela's house, at rear left, in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family fed fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

    The hearse, foreground centre, carrying the remains of family members of former President Nelson Mandela drive to the grave site, with Nelson Mandela's house, at rear left, in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family fed fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Oamohetswe Mabitsela, 4 months old, is placed by his mother next to a picture of Nelson Mandela for her to take a photograph of him with her camera phone, outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa Thursday, July 4, 2013. The remains of Nelson Mandela's three deceased children were reburied at their original resting site on Thursday, a day after a court ordered their return two years after Mandela's grandson moved the bodies. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

    Oamohetswe Mabitsela, 4 months old, is placed by his mother next to a picture of Nelson Mandela for her to take a photograph of him with her camera phone, outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa Thursday, July 4, 2013. The remains of Nelson Mandela's three deceased children were reburied at their original resting site on Thursday, a day after a court ordered their return two years after Mandela's grandson moved the bodies. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

  • Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, center, leaves the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

    Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, center, leaves the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

  • ANC women's organization members, hold candles and chant prayers to honor former South African President Nelson Mandela in front of his house in the Soweto township, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa,  Thursday, July 4, 2013. Mandela remains in a critical condition in a hospital in Pretoria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

    ANC women's organization members, hold candles and chant prayers to honor former South African President Nelson Mandela in front of his house in the Soweto township, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. Mandela remains in a critical condition in a hospital in Pretoria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

  • A woman prays at the entrance of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

    A woman prays at the entrance of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

  • Woman sing in honor of former President Nelson Mandela in front of his house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

    Woman sing in honor of former President Nelson Mandela in front of his house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Members of the African National Congress (ANC) Women's League march and sing in support of former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where he is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa Thursday, July 4, 2013. A South African court ruled on Wednesday that Nelson Mandela's grandson Mandla Mandela must return the bodies of the former president's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

    Members of the African National Congress (ANC) Women's League march and sing in support of former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where he is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa Thursday, July 4, 2013. A South African court ruled on Wednesday that Nelson Mandela's grandson Mandla Mandela must return the bodies of the former president's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

  • Makaziwe Mandela, center, daughter of former President Nelson Mandela walks to a car  after a funeral at Nelson Mandela's  house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

    Makaziwe Mandela, center, daughter of former President Nelson Mandela walks to a car after a funeral at Nelson Mandela's house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

  • Women of the ANC women league sing and hold posters in support of former South African President Nelson Mandela at the entrance of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

    Women of the ANC women league sing and hold posters in support of former South African President Nelson Mandela at the entrance of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

  • A woman dances and blows a whistle at the entrance of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

    A woman dances and blows a whistle at the entrance of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

  • Mandla Mandela,  grandson of former president Nelson Mandela,  at a news conference in Mvezo, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday, that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site in Qunu. (AP Photo)

    Mandla Mandela, grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, at a news conference in Mvezo, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday, that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site in Qunu. (AP Photo)

  • Mandla Mandela, right, grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, and his mother Nolusapho Mandela, left, at a news conference in Mvezo, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday, that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site in Qunu. (AP Photo)

    Mandla Mandela, right, grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, and his mother Nolusapho Mandela, left, at a news conference in Mvezo, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday, that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site in Qunu. (AP Photo)

  • Family members of  former President Nelson Mandela carry a coffin of a deceased child to be buried near his house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
  • Family members of  former South African President Nelson Mandela carry a coffin of a deceased child to be buried near his house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
  • The hearse, foreground centre,  carrying the remains of family members of  former President Nelson Mandela drive to the grave site, with Nelson Mandela's house, at rear left, in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family fed fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
  • Oamohetswe Mabitsela, 4 months old, is placed by his mother next to a picture of Nelson Mandela for her to take a photograph of him with her camera phone, outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa Thursday, July 4, 2013. The remains of Nelson Mandela's three deceased children were reburied at their original resting site on Thursday, a day after a court ordered their return two years after Mandela's grandson moved the bodies. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
  • Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, center, leaves the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
  • ANC women's organization members, hold candles and chant prayers to honor former South African President Nelson Mandela in front of his house in the Soweto township, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa,  Thursday, July 4, 2013. Mandela remains in a critical condition in a hospital in Pretoria. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
  • A woman prays at the entrance of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
  • Woman sing in honor of former President Nelson Mandela in front of his house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
  • Members of the African National Congress (ANC) Women's League march and sing in support of former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where he is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa Thursday, July 4, 2013. A South African court ruled on Wednesday that Nelson Mandela's grandson Mandla Mandela must return the bodies of the former president's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
  • Makaziwe Mandela, center, daughter of former President Nelson Mandela walks to a car  after a funeral at Nelson Mandela's  house in Qunu, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)
  • Women of the ANC women league sing and hold posters in support of former South African President Nelson Mandela at the entrance of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
  • A woman dances and blows a whistle at the entrance of the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where former South African President Nelson Mandela is being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
  • Mandla Mandela,  grandson of former president Nelson Mandela,  at a news conference in Mvezo, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday, that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site in Qunu. (AP Photo)
  • Mandla Mandela, right, grandson of former president Nelson Mandela, and his mother Nolusapho Mandela, left, at a news conference in Mvezo, South Africa, Thursday, July 4, 2013. In a macabre family feud fought as Nelson Mandela remained in critical condition, a South African court ruled Wednesday, that the former president's grandson must return the bodies of the 94-year-old's three deceased children to their original burial site in Qunu. (AP Photo)

Nelson Mandela is being kept alive by a breathing machine and faces “impending death,” court documents show.

The former president’s health is “perilous,” according to documents filed in the court case that resulted in the remains of his three deceased children being reburied yesterday in their original graves.

“The anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds,” the court filing said.

Mandela, who was hospitalized June 8, remains in critical but stable condition, according to the office of President Jacob Zuma, who visited the anti-apartheid leader yesterday. The president’s office also said doctors denied reports that 94-year-old Mandela is in a “vegetative state.”

A younger person put on mechanical ventilation – life support – can be weaned off the machine and recover, but it can be difficult or impossible for an older person. The longer a person is on ventilation, the less the chance of recovery, said the chief executive of the Faculty of Consulting Physicians of South Africa.

“It indicates a very poor prognosis for recovery because it means that he’s either too weak or too sick to breathe on his own,” said Dr. Adri Kok, who has no connection to Mandela’s care. “Usually if a person does need that, any person, not keeping in mind his age at all, for any person it would be indicative of a grave illness.”

“When they say ‘perilous’ I think that would be a fair description,” she said.

In Mandela’s hometown, Qunu, yesterday, the bodies of three of his children were returned to their original resting site following the court order.

Family members and community elders attended a ceremony on the Mandela property that included the singing of hymns. The reburial took place in Qunu, where Mandela grew up and where the former president has said he wants to be buried. Forensic tests earlier confirmed the remains were those of Mandela’s children.

Grandson Mandla Mandela moved the bodies to his village of Mvezo – Nelson Mandela’s birthplace – in 2011. The two towns are about 15 miles apart. Fifteen Mandela family members pursued court action last week to force the grandson to move the bodies back to their original burial site.

Mandla Mandela – the oldest male Mandela heir and a tribal chief – told a news conference yesterday that his grandfather “would be highly disappointed in what is unraveling.”

Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu appealed to the family of Mandela, also known by his clan name Madiba, to overcome their differences.

“Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves. It’s almost like spitting in Madiba’s face,” Tutu said in a statement released by a foundation he leads. “Your anguish, now, is the nation’s anguish – and the world’s. We want to embrace you, to support you, to shine our love for Madiba through you. Please may we not besmirch his name.”

Mlawu Tyatyeka, an expert on the Xhosa culture of Mandela’s family, said the court case over the graves was decided quickly because the family knows that Mandela will soon die.

“It’s not a case of wishing him to die. It’s a case of making sure that by the time he dies, his dying wish has been fulfilled,” he said. “We have a belief that should you ignore a dying wish, all bad will befall you.”

Meanwhile, Mandela’s wife said the former president is sometimes uncomfortable but seldom in pain while being treated in a hospital.

Graca Machel spoke about her husband’s condition at a fundraising drive for a children’s hospital that will be named after Mandela.

“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.

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 South African president F.W. de Klerk.

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