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South Africa's President Jacob Zuma insists Obama's visit to South Africa will go ahead despite Nelson Mandela's failing health

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has said US President Barack Obama will still travel to his country despite the failing health of Nelson Mandela.

Mr Obama was due to meet his fellow Nobel peace laureate during a short tour of Africa this week.

However, Mr Zuma said: "Madiba (Mandela's clan name) has been unwell for quite a while. There's nothing that's going to stop the visit to South Africa because Mandela is sick. If you stopped that visit, people would ask questions. Mr Obama is coming whilst Madiba is in hospital not well."

Jack Hillmeyer, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Pretoria, said: "Obviously the president and the first lady and everyone is keeping him in their thoughts and prayers. We will be watching and following developments, but for now, we are continuing with preparations (for the visit)."

On Friday, before Mr Mandela's health took a downturn, Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security adviser, said of the visit: "Ultimately, we want whatever is in the best interests of his (Mandela's) health and the peace of mind of the Mandela family . . . If he has an opportunity to see the family in some capacity, that's certainly something that we may do."

Before visiting South Africa, Mr Obama is due to visit Senegal. His final stop on the tour will be Tanzania.

Mr Mandela's deterioration has caused a switch in mood from prayers for recovery to preparations for a fond farewell.

"If it's his time to go, he can go. I wish God can look after him," said nurse Petunia Mafuyeka, as she headed to work in Johannesburg.

"We will miss him very much. He fought for us to give us freedom. We will remember him every day. When he goes I will cry."

Yesterday there was some concern among the public about doctors trying to prolong the life of South Africa's first black president, one of the 20th Century's most influential figures.

"I'm worried that they're keeping him alive. I feel they should let him go," said Doris Lekalakala, a claims manager.

"The man is old. Let nature take its course. He must just rest." (© Independent News Service)

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