Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela’s medical condition remains “unchanged” in a critical condition, the South African Presidency said on Tuesday, as the 94 year-old leader’s family met to discuss “delicate matters” relating to him.

President Jacob Zuma also urged that Mr. Mandela and his family be “accorded the necessary sensitivity, dignity and privacy at this time”.

“We must support him and support his family. We must demonstrate our love and appreciation for his leadership during the struggle for liberation and in our first few years of freedom and democracy by living out his legacy and promoting unity, non-racialism, non-sexism and prosperity in our country”, said Mr. Zuma.

The family gathering at Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where the revered statesman spent his childhood, came two days after Mr. Zuma gave the strongest indication yet that all is not well with the elder statesman.

Briefing media about the family meeting, Napilisi Mandela, an elder in the family, said the meeting had been called to “discuss delicate matters” on Mandela.

The meeting also includes chiefs of the Abathembu royal family, with Xhosa cultural scholars saying such a meeting takes place when someone in the family is critically ill. The elder usually presides over family meetings and traditional rituals in the Mandela clan, they said.

Makaziwe Mandela, daughter of the President from his first wife Evelyn, who is also at the meeting, appealed to media to respect the family’s privacy. “We haven’t come to the end yet. It is only God who knows the end”, she said.

Earlier, the Presidency has accused media of crossing the boundaries of medical ethics while covering the deteriorating health condition of Mr. Mandela.

The Presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj said Mr. Mandela’s privacy and dignity is at stake.

“The doctors have indicated very firmly that some of the reporting is transgressing on medicals ethics, not just in relation to doctor/patient confidentially, but in relation to the way in which doctors are being interviewed for their opinion”, Mr. Maharaj said.

Mr. Zuma, in the statement, thanked the South African public for ongoing support and understanding.

“We must all be planning what to do next month in marking our 67 minutes of doing good for humanity as called upon by Madiba (Mr. Mandela’s clan name) to do so, when he launched the International Mandela Day campaign.

“Let us make it the biggest Mandela Day ever on the 18th of July, focusing on doing good all over the country.”

As local and international media continents increased outside the Pretoria hospital, people all over the country were engaging in prayer meetings at schools and public venues, including churches, mosques and temples.

“All I pray for as a daughter is that the transition is smooth. He is at peace with himself. He has given so much to the world. I believe he is at peace”, said Ms. Makaziwe, the sole surviving child from his first marriage to Evelyn.

Asked whether the family should let the former President go, Ms. Makaziwe said they would not because Mandela had not asked them to.

“In our culture, the Tembu culture you never release the person unless the person has told you: ‘Please, my children, my family, release me.’ My dad hasn’t said that to us”, she was quoted as saying by Timelive.com.

Mr. Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, was admitted to Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria on June 8 for the third time this year, with a recurring lung infection.

The statement on his health came amid a mounting public outcry after it was learnt that the ambulance transporting Mr. Mandela to the hospital from his home in Johannesburg in the early hours of June 8 broke down and paramedics had to treat him for almost 40 minutes before a second one arrived.

Mr. Mandela is revered for leading the fight against white minority rule in South Africa and then preaching reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years. He left power after five years as president.

He is believed to have suffered damage to his lungs while working in a prison quarry. He contracted tuberculosis in the 1980s while being held in jail on the windswept Robben Island.

Mr. Mandela retired from public life in 2004 and has rarely been seen at official events since.

Outside the hospital, where the walls and pavements are filled with messages of goodwill and flowers, a group of local businessmen released 100 white doves to signify the role he had played in leading South Africa to a peaceful transition from apartheid.

More In: World | International | News