World Watches As Nelson Mandela Remains Hospitalized

Nelson Mandela, the former South African president revered around the world, remains in a Pretoria hospital. His condition has improved slightly — though still critical, he is now "stable." His family is near, some of them angered by the army of reporters who have gathered near the hospital. President Obama, on a three country tour of Africa, arrives in South Africa on Friday.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

South Africans and other well-wishers around the world are praying, singing and hoping for Nelson Mandela. The former South African president is 94 and, as Ari mentioned, he is in a critical state of health at a hospital in Pretoria.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Mandela's family and current South African president, Jacob Zuma, visited him today while the world waited for an update. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us on the line. And, Ofeibea, you were at the hospital today. Can you tell us what's the latest on Nelson Mandela's condition?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: We're told that former President Nelson Mandela is still critical but stable and that his condition has improved somewhat. And that's a little different to last night when President Jacob Zuma was at the hospital late on Wednesday night and issued a statement that I think sent a shiver of fright and concern throughout South Africa and it looked as if former President Mandela might be sliding slowly, gently away. But his family has been to visit him today, his daughters, grandchildren. And they're all saying tata - as they call him, father - and South Africans, of course, call him father of the nation - he's fighting hard to stay on. But you can see that he is very sick man.

CORNISH: And, Ofeibea, what's the mood there outside the hospital?

QUIST-ARCTON: It started off somber and then became joyous, as dozens of South Africans sang the praises of Nelson Mandela, saying tata - father - you are our hero. You have brought us freedom. You have brought us peace. You have brought us hope, and we thank you. We are praying for you. We hope that you will be able to hang on but we understand if you need to go. You are an almost 95-year-old man who has helped his nation, has helped South Africa, Africa and the world. And if it's time for you to go, then we accept it.

CORNISH: So, Ofeibea, given all of this attention, what are you hearing from the Mandela family?

QUIST-ARCTON: They're thanking South Africans. They're thanking the world for all its support, for its love and for its prayers for Nelson Mandela. And you should see the wall outside the hospital. It is plastered with messages of goodwill and hope. But there's also been some anger, especially against the international media, saying you're too probing. In Africa, we don't bury a person before they die. You're giving too many details about the declining health of former President Mandela. Give him some respect. He's a very proper man who is almost 95 years old and this is like vultures looking for something, and they don't accept it, especially his eldest daughter, Makaziwe.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is due in South Africa tomorrow for a two-day official visit. Is that likely to go ahead as scheduled?

QUIST-ARCTON: It was touch and go, Audie, but we're hearing now that the two governments, South Africa and, of course, the White House, are knocking heads. And as far as we know, the South Africans have been saying all week that despite former President Mandela's ill health, President Obama's trip will go ahead. You know, for a long time, South Africans were saying this trip is long overdue. He's only been to Africa once since he became president. And now they're saying it was overdue but now it has been overshadowed by the poor health of Nelson Mandela. But they're still hoping to welcome America's first family to South Africa.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, speaking to us from Johannesburg. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Thank you.

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