Nelson Mandela’s final moments were spent off a life support machine, with his wife, Graça Machel, and his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at his bedside, witnesses have said.
The former president died at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, at 8.50pm on Thursday,sending millions into mourning in South Africa and around the world.
Bantu Holomisa, a politician and close family friend, recalled how less than three hours earlier he found Mandela asleep and struggling to breathe but “still fighting”. Holomisa, 58, said he received a call on Thursday afternoon telling him to come urgently. “They said on the phone that Madiba [Mandela’s clan name] doesn’t look good,” he told the Guardian. “I immediately drove straight to his home and went to his bedroom.”
The time was 6.35pm and Mandela’s condition was clearly deteriorating. “I could confirm this wasn’t the Madiba we’ve seen since he went into hospital. He was sleeping with no life support machine. You could hear from his breathing that he was struggling.
“Winnie and Graça were at the bedside of Madiba. You could see the tension. I bowed to acknowledge them then gave myself a moment of silence with Madiba, said thank you to the doctors and then left at 6.50pm for another engagement.”
At that point Holomisa did not realise he would never see his mentor again. “I was still in a state of denial. He’s still fighting, but it was not to be. I was not that shocked when he died because I had just seen him. My mind was conditioned from the time I received the call.”
In related news, Nelson Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe told the BBC about the “wonderful” final hours of the former president.
“Until the last moment he had us, you know… The children were there, the grandchildren were there, Graca was there, so we are always around him and even at the last moment, we were sitting with him on Thursday the whole day.”she added.
Ms Mandela said she believed her father had fought not just for political freedom but also for spiritual freedom.
“He talks about the fact that it takes courage to forgive. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing,” she said.
“I think he knew that if he didn’t forgive, he would be forever imprisoned spiritually. The lesson we can take from his life is to have the courage to forgive other people.
“None of us are born hating another – we are taught to hate and if you can teach a human being to hate you can also teach a human being to love, to embrace and to forgive.”