POSTED: Thursday, June 27, 2013 - 8:13am
UPDATED: Friday, June 28, 2013 - 3:51pm
"He is a personal hero, but I'm not unique in that regard," Obama says
PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) — Though anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela is critically ill, he opens his eyes and responds to touch, his oldest daughter said Thursday.
Mandela, 94, considered the founding father of South Africa's modern democracy, has been undergoing treatment at a Pretoria hospital since June 8 for a recurring lung infection.
"I reiterate that Tata is very critical, that anything is imminent," Makaziwe Mandela told state-run South African Broadcasting Corp. "But I want to emphasize again that it's only God who knows when the time to go is. And so we will wait."
Tata is the Xhosa word for father.
"He's ... still reactive to touch. We will live with that hope until the final end comes," she said.
An official briefed on Mandela's condition said he was on life support late Wednesday. Government spokesman Mac Maharaj declined to comment on the report, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.
Shortly after visiting him the same night, President Jacob Zuma canceled a trip to Mozambique, where he was scheduled to attend a summit on investment Thursday.
As the nation remained on edge, South Africans found solace in candlelight vigils. Police barricaded the street leading to the hospital's main entrance as crowds posted messages and left tributes at the hospital wall.
"We need you!" one sign read. "We love you tata, get well soon!" said another.
Mandela became an international figure while enduring 27 years in prison for fighting apartheid, the country's system of racial segregation. He was elected the nation's first black president in 1994, four years after he was freed.
Even as he has faded from the spotlight, he remains popular and is considered a hero of democracy worldwide.
He turns 95 next month.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who is on an a tour of the continent this week that includes South Africa, said his thoughts are with the nation's citizens.
"He is a personal hero, but I'm not unique in that regard," Obama told CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin in Dakar, Senegal, the first stop of his African tour.
"I think he's a hero for the world and if/when he passes, we know his legacy will linger on throughout the ages."
Obama's visit to South Africa on Saturday will include a visit to Robben Island, where Mandela spent a majority of his prison term. The White House schedule does not include a visit with the anti-apartheid icon.
After South Africa, Obama heads to Tanzania, his last stop before he heads back to Washington.
CNN's Faith Karimi wrote and contributed from Atlanta, and Robyn Curnow from Pretoria. CNN's Brent Swails and Josh Levs contributed to this report.
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