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Nelson Mandela

South Africans were torn on Wednesday between the desire not to lose a critically ill Nelson 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. A tribal chief close to the Mandela family has hinted tonight that the former President is now on life-support.

The sense of anticipation and foreboding about Mandela’s fate has grown since late Sunday, when the South African government declared that the condition of the 94-year-old statesman, who was rushed to a hospital in Pretoria on June 8, had deteriorated.

A tide of emotional tributes has built on social media and in handwritten messages and flowers laid outside the hospital and Mandela’s home. On Wednesday, about 20 children from a day care center posted a handmade card outside the hospital and recited a poem. President Obama is also en route to South Africa as well, and had planned to see the most legendary figure on the continent.

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