Home | News | Regional | Mandela's final hours: Family, friends and a priest rush to his deathbed... but where was Winnie?

Mandela's final hours: Family, friends and a priest rush to his deathbed... but where was Winnie?

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  • Former president surrounded by family including third wife Graca Machel, 68
  • His daughter, Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, 60, grandsons Ndaba Mandela, 30, and Mandla Mandela, 38, also thought to have been at his side
  • Elders from his native Thembu tribe are believed to have been at deathbed
  • But there was no sign of Winnie Mandela, 77, his second wife of 38 years

By Harriet Arkell

PUBLISHED: 08:38 EST, 6 December 2013 | UPDATED: 08:39 EST, 6 December 2013



Nelson Mandela died at home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, 10 weeks after being allowed out of the Pretoria hospital where he had been treated for a persistent lung infection.

South African president Jacob Zuma said the 95-year-old, who was transferred home by ambulance in August to spend his final weeks there, had 'passed on peacefully in the company of his family'.

Mandela's third wife, Graca Machel, 68, is believed to have been by his side, as well as some of his children, grandchildren, stepchildren, a priest, and elders from his native Thembu tribe.

But there was no sign of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mandela's second wife who married him in 1958 and stood by him throughout his 27 years in jail before the 38-year marriage ended bitterly in 1996.

Family home: Nelson Mandela was surrounded by friends, family and tribal elders as he died at home in Houghton

Family home: Nelson Mandela was surrounded by friends, family and tribal elders as he died at home in Houghton, Johannesburg, while police stood guard outside


Finally at peace: Nelson Mandela died yesterday at home in the company of his third wife Graca Machel, left, (pictured with Hillary Clinton when she visited him in August last year), relations and friends


Mandela's daughter Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, centre, and her daughters Tukwini and Ndileka, right, are thought to have been with him at the end

The former president's condition had fluctuated since June, when he was admitted to hospital suffering from an infection and it was widely feared he was close to death. 

His condition improved enough for him to be allowed home, where his bedroom had been adapted into what was said to resemble an intensive care unit.

Last month Mrs Madikizela-Mandela said her former husband had beaten a bout of pneumonia but was still 'quite ill' and was unable to speak because of tubes inserted into his lungs to clear them of liquid.

She said he was using facial expressions to communicate, and said the house had to be kept sterile to ensure the infection did not recur.

This week Mandela's condition again deteriorated, and he was reported to be on life support and unconscious as the end neared.

On Wednesday, the day before her father died, Mandela's eldest daughter Makaziwe Mandela-Amuah, 60,  said: 'You can see he is struggling, but the fighting spirit is there with him.'

And his grandson by his late son Makgatho Mandela, Ndaba Mandela, 30, said: 'He is not doing well at home in bed.'

It is not known if Winnie Mandela, who was married to the statesman from 1958-1996, was there at the end

It is not known if Winnie Mandela, who was married to the statesman from 1958-1996, was there at the end


Mandela's grandson Mandla, 39, left, is believed to have visited his grandfather at home shortly before he died, while South African president Jacob Zuma, who announced the death last night, above, visited last month

Nelson and Graca

Graca Machel, 68, married Nelson Mandela on his 80th birthday and they were together for 15 years until he died

Ndaba's older brother Mandla Mandela, 39, is believed to have been with Mandela in his final hours, as were Graca Mandela's children Josina and Malenga Machel, who are in their 30s.  A priest was also said to have been summoned to the house yesterday evening.

The former personal assistant Zelda la Grange, 43, is although thought to have been close to the family as Mandela's condition worsened.

During the last hours before his death at 8.50pm Johannesburg time, elders from Mandela's native Thembu clan joined his relatives at his side.

The elders would have performed, either at Mandela's home or later in the mortuary, a traditional ceremony called 'the closing of the eyes', to herald the transition from life to the next stage.

The flag-covered coffin carrying the body of former president Nelson Mandela left his home today

The flag-covered coffin carrying the body of former president Nelson Mandela left his home today

The ceremony would have involved the elders talking to Mandela, and also to his ancestors, to explain what was happening to his spirit during each stage as he passed from life on earth, CNN reported.

This morning, Mandela's body was removed from his house in a coffin draped in a South African flag and taken to a military hospital in Pretoria, before the start of a 10-day mourning period.

Next Sunday a state funeral, expected to be the biggest funeral Africa and possibly the world has ever seen, will take place in the Eastern Cape village of Qunu where Mandela spent his childhood.

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