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Africa

Wishing Mandela well

South Africa's freedom icon President Nelson Mandela has now been in hospital for almost two months. He was admitted to Pretoria hospital on June 8 and has been receiving treatment for a lung infection.

"Critical but stable" has been the description of Nelson Mandela's condition ever since he was first admitted at Pretoria hospital. Although the South African government has substantially reduced its regular bulletins on his health, local and foreign visitors can still be seen in the vicinity of the hospital.

The aim is to pray for him, show him love and wish him a quick recovery. Portia Mthembu is a student at the University of South Africa (UNISA).

"It's best if he's sitting at home with his family not strapped to machines, getting medication every day. He's suffered a lot, being in hospital is worse. I want him to get well and go home," said Mthembu.

The number of visitors has gone down since early June when as many as 200 people used to flock every day to a side street opposite the hospital to lay flowers, write messages and pray for Mandela's recovery.

Two students possing near a wall full of support messages for Mandela, outside Pretoria hospital. (Photo: Subry Govender)

Few people are still visiting the vicinity of Pretoria hospital to show their love to the freedom fighter

Large portraits of Mandela's pictures are now adorning tree tops and street lamps and the hospital perimeter wall. There's also a huge tribute wall where thousands of messages of support have been posted by well-wishers.

David Rees Jones is a tourist from the United Kingdom. He was among the visitors to the tribute wall, together with his wife, daughter, son and niece.

"We just wanted to come and pay our respects to Nelson Mandela, you know he's an incredible statesman and he did so much for South Africa," Jones said. "He's an inspiration for all people around the world. He's an old man but everyone still wishes him the best," Jones added.

We are not leaving this place

Major international and local media houses are still maintaining a presence, although nothing much is happening. A cameraman for a local television station, Clement Mantase, has been keeping watch at the entrance to the hospital from across the street for about four weeks. He says there hasn't been much activity lately.

"It's been quiet for the past two weeks or so. On average, we'll see one family, or two, coming to visit the hospital and we never get information from inside," Mantase explained.

Andrew Jaguna is a cameraman for the Associated Press Television. He has been stationed near the hospital since June, with only returning to his home base in Nairobi, Kenya, for a few days break.

"I haven't filed a single picture for the last two weeks, reason being that not much information is coming. Family visits have become rare. We only see the wife, Graca Machel. She is always here and the eldest daughter comes once in a while," Jaguna noted.

A young BBC television reporter, Sullefene Lolwane, says despite the drastic drop in the number of people visiting the tribute wall, they are not planning to leave.

A girl gestures near a picture of ailing former South African President Nelson Mandela. (Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya )

Mandela's condition has always been described as "serious but stable"

"We'll be here until something happens. Yeah, we'll maintain it. Each day someone different will come and just monitor everything," Lolwane insisted.

A street photographer, Sabelo Makena, who set up business near the tribute wall three weeks ago, is also now finding that fewer people are visiting the area. He had been very busy photographing visitors to the tribute wall but for the past week there has only been a trickle of people.

"For the first two weeks I have done a lot of money, but since last week from Thursday till now there's no business here," said Makena.

Security is still very tight and neither unofficial visitors nor media people are allowed into the hospital grounds. Last Friday, the South African government said Mandela was still critical but showing signs of improvement.

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