South Africans are torn 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.
The sense of anticipation and foreboding about 94-year-old Mr Mandela's fate has grown since the South African government declared that the condition of the statesman, who was rushed to hospital in Pretoria on June 8, had deteriorated.
A tide of emotional tributes has built on social media and in hand-written messages and flowers laid outside the hospital and Mr Mandela's home.
In recent days, international leaders, celebrities, athletes and others have praised Mr 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 Mr Mandela grew up, a traditional leader said the time was near for Mr 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, Mr Mandela's decline is a far more personal matter, echoing the protracted and emotionally draining process of losing one of their own elderly relatives.
Earlier a South African archbishop who visited Mr Mandela offered a prayer in which he wished for a "peaceful, perfect, end" for the anti-apartheid leader, who was taken to the Pretoria hospital to be treated for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.
In the prayer, Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, asked for courage to be granted to Mr 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 Mr Mandela. "May your blessing rest upon Madiba now and always," Makgoba said in the prayer. "Grant him, we pray, a quiet night and a peaceful, perfect, end."