Winne Madikezila-Mandela: The last moments of Nelson Mandela

“I received a call in the morning and I was told … there were difficulties about Tata,” she said, referring to Mr Mandela by his Xhosa name, which means “Father”.

“I phoned the doctor and he said ‘No Mama, I think you’d better visit’. He had never used that word before. When he spoke like that then, I knew there was a very serious problem.”

When she arrived at Mr Mandela’s house, other relatives told her to go upstairs, to where doctors were gathered around him. “I asked ‘is this it?'”she said. “Of course they kept quiet and they did not tell me.

“I sat there for three and a half hours, watching that machine. But the first shock I got was the fact they had switched off the dialysis machine and there was just a respirator registering the heartbeat and blood pressure. When I got there, the heartbeat was around 67 and the blood pressure was 55. I watched those figures going down and down so slowly. They felt eternal. They kept dropping and dropping.”

After Mr Mandela’s readings dropped further still, she knew his very last moments were imminent, she said. “The doctors were standing around him. They told me I should move close to him. I went close to him and I noticed he was breathing really slowly. I was holding him trying to feel his temperature and he felt cold. Then he drew his last breath and just rested … He was gone.”

She added: “I realised all along as human beings I honestly could not find myself saying ‘it is time’ but I knew we had reached the end. You get this numb feeling. You don’t react to that. I can’t describe that kind of sorrow. Even though he was 95 and had done so much, there was so much that was still not done.”

The words of Empress Winnie Madikezila-Mandela


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