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Mandela unable to speak, remains ill: former wife

world Updated: Nov 17, 2013 20:58 IST

Anti-apartheid icon NelsonMandela remains "quite ill" and is using facial gestures to communicate with his family and doctors, the former South African President's ex-wife has said.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela said the 95-year-old leader was, however, not on life support but he was no longer talking "because of all the tubes that are in his mouth to clear (fluid from) the lungs".

"I have heard all this nonsense that he is on life support. He is not. He remains quite ill. But thank God, the doctors were able to pull him through from that infection that landed him in hospital for more than two months earlier this year," 77-year-old Winnie was quoted by The Sunday Independent newspaper as saying.

Mandela is under the care of 22 doctors, and while his pneumonia has cleared, his lungs remain sensitive, she said.

"It is difficult for him," said Winnie. "He remains very sensitive to any germs, so he has to be kept literally sterile. The bedroom there (in Houghton) is like an ICU ward." "He is 95 years old and it is difficult for him, because of all the tubes that are in his mouth to clear (fluid off the) lungs and prevent an infection recurring. Though the pneumonia has cleared, his lungs remains sensitive, hence the tubes," Winnie said.

Mandela, who spent 27 years in apartheid jail before becoming South Africa's first black leader, has faced several health scares. His most recent hospital stay spanning over three months was his longest since he walked free in 1990.

Mandela was in "an atmosphere he recognises", Winnie said.

"When he is very relaxed, he is fine and it has given us a lot of hope."

Winnie's comments are the first detailed reports on Mandela's health, as the Presidency only issues periodic updates which mainly indicate that he is recovering well.