Family gathers at Nelson Mandela's "deathbed"

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Friends and relatives of ailing South African icon Nelson Mandela gathered on Thursday at his Johannesburg home where the 95-year-old is said to be on his "deathbed".

Two of Mr Mandela's grand-daughters and a close family friend Mr Bantu Holomisa were among those seen entering the house, which was flanked by more than a dozen cars ferrying visitors and military personnel.

The reason for the larger-than-usual gathering was not made public, but it comes shortly after Mr Mandela's daughter Makaziwe described her father as fighting from his "deathbed," but still being "very strong" and "very courageous".

"Even when there are moments when you can see he's struggling, the fighting spirit is still there with him," she said earlier this week.

But daughter Zindzi suggested her father was not in immediate danger when she spoke at the London premiere of a film about his life.

"My father is fine," she said. "He's 95 years old and he is pretty frail. We are hoping to see more of him".

Mr Mandela has been receiving around the clock intensive care from military and other doctors since September, when he was discharged from a nearly three-month hospital stay for a lung infection.

Grandson Ndaba recently told a local broadcaster that Mr Mandela was "not doing well at home in bed".

Another of Mr Mandela's grandsons, Mandla had a planned court appearance for Friday delayed as he made his way to Johannesburg.

"His lawyers have made arrangements that he presents himself to court on the 12th of December," Mr Luxolo Tyali, National Prosecuting Authority spokesman told the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Mr Mandla was due to appear in court in the Eastern Cape to answer charges of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and pointing a firearm in connection with a road incident in October.

"My client left the Eastern Cape this morning," his lawyer Matthew Mpahlwa told AFP.

Mr Mandla later told South African news agency SAPA that he was not aware of any urgent meeting at the home.

Mr Mac Maharaj, spokesman for the country's presidency which is the official channel for updates on Mr Mandela's health, said his condition of stable but critical was unchanged.

"My last update stands," he said.

The prosecution said Mr Mandla's court delay, which was arranged on Thursday, was normal practice but did not give details of the lawyers' discussions.

"It's a normal practice more especially when someone is not around because he's apparently not in the province, so we do understand," said Mr Tyali.

It is the latest court drama to hit Mr Mandla, who has been embroiled in legal rows over grave tampering in a bitter family feud and bigamy.

He is chief in the far-flung village where his grandfather, South Africa's first black President, was born.

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