Former South African President Nelson Mandela is responding to touch and is ''still there'', his eldest daughter Makaziwe said after visiting the critically ill anti-apartheid leader in hospital.
She visited him late morning Thursday local time (NZT 9pm Thursday).
''I won't lie, it doesn't look good. But as I say, if we speak to him, he responds and tries to open his eyes. He's still there. He might be waning off, but he's still there,'' she told South African Broadcasting Corporation radio.
Later, South Africa President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela in hospital and when leaving told media the former president was stable.
Late last night (local time) South Africa President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela in hospital and later cancelled his planned visit today to Mozambique. This was an indication of heightened concern over the deteriorating health of the man widely considered the father of the country.
Zuma found 94-year-old Mandela to still be in critical condition during the 10pm Wednesday (local time) visit and was briefed by doctors "who are still doing everything they can to ensure his well-being," Zuma's office said in a statement.
It said the president decided to cancel a visit to Maputo, the Mozambican capital, where he was to attend a meeting on regional investment.
As worries over Mandela mounted, Mac Maharaj, the presidential spokesman, declined to comment on media reports that the former president and anti-apartheid leader was on life support systems in the Pretoria hospital where he was taken June 8 to be treated for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.
"I cannot comment on the clinical details of these reports because that would breach the confidentiality of the doctor/patient relationship," Maharaj said in an interview with South Africa's Radio 702.
Earlier, leading South African news website News24.com reported that a digger had arrived at what is believed to be Mandela's grave site.
It said the earth moving eqipment appeared just hours after a meeting was held by Mandela's family at his home in Qunu.
Mandela family representatives, local clan leaders and national government officials met at the Mandela home for two hours overnight.
News24 reported that after the meeting, Mandela's grandson, Ndaba Mandela, went to inspect the grave site.
'HOLD ON, OLD MAN'
South Africans were torn between the desire not to lose Mandela, who defined the aspirations of so many of his compatriots, and resignation that the beloved former prisoner and president is approaching the end of his life.
The sense of anticipation and foreboding about Mandela's fate has grown since the start of the week, when the South African government declared that the condition of the statesman had deteriorated.
A tide of emotional tributes has built on social media and in hand-written messages and flowers laid outside the hospital and Mandela's home. About 20 children from a day care center posted a hand-made card outside the hospital and recited a poem.
"Hold on, old man," was one of the lines in the Zulu poem, according to the South African Press Association.
In recent days, international leaders, celebrities, athletes and others have praised Mandela, not just as the man who steered South Africa through its tense transition from white racist rule to democracy two decades ago, but as a universal symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation.
In South Africa's Eastern Cape province, where Mandela grew up, a traditional leader said the time was near for Mandela, who is also known by his clan name, Madiba.
"I am of the view that if Madiba is no longer enjoying life, and is on life support systems, and is not appreciating what is happening around him, I think the good Lord should take the decision to put him out of his suffering," said the tribal chief, Phathekile Holomisa.
"I did speak to two of his family members, and of course, they are in a lot of pain, and wish that a miracle might happen, that he recovers again, and he becomes his old self again," he said. "But at the same time they are aware there is a limit what miracles you can have."
For many South Africans, Mandela's decline is a far more personal matter, echoing the protracted and emotionally draining process of losing one of their own elderly relatives.
One nugget of wisdom about the arc of life and death came from Matthew Rusznyah, a 9-year-old boy who stopped outside Mandela's home in the Johannesburg neighbourhood of Houghton to show his appreciation.
"We came because we care about Mandela being sick, and we wish we could put a stop to it, like snap our fingers," he said. "But we can't. It's how life works."
His mother, Lee Rusznyah, said Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison under apartheid before becoming South Africa's first black president in all-race elections in 1994, had made the world a better place.
"All of us will end," Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"We just want him to be peacefully released, whatever he's feeling at this moment, and to be reunited with his Maker at the perfect time, when God so wills."
The archbishop said: "Ultimately, we are all mortal. At some stage or another, we all have to die, and we have to move on, we have to be recalled by our Maker and Redeemer. We have to create that space for Madiba, to come to terms within himself, with that journey."
Makgoba visited Mandela and offered a prayer in which he wished for a "peaceful, perfect, end" for the anti-apartheid leader.
In the prayer, he asked for courage to be granted to Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and others who love him "at this hard time of watching and waiting," and he appealed for divine help for the medical team treating Mandela.
Visitors to the hospital also included Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The couple divorced in 1996.
US President Barack Obama was due to visit South Africa this week as part of a three-country Africa tour. Zuma said Mandela's worsening health would not affect the trip.
The public's last glimpse of Mandela was a brief clip aired by state television in April during a visit to his home by Zuma and other leaders from the ruling African National Congress.
At the time, the 101-year-old liberation movement, which led the fight against white-minority rule, assured the public Mandela was "in good shape", although the footage showed a thin and frail old man sitting expressionless in an armchair.
Two dead while the washing hung on the line (graphic content)