Supporters pray for Mandela at his house in the Soweto township, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. The remains of three of his children were reburied Thursday amid a family dispute.


JOHANNESBURG - Nelson Mandela is being kept alive by a breathing machine and faces "impending death," court documents show.

Mandela's health is "perilous," according to documents filed in the court case that resulted in the remains of the former president's three deceased children being reburied Thursday in their original graves.

"The anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds," the court filing said.

"He's basically gone," said Charlene Smith, an authorized biographer of the former anti-apartheid leader. "He's not there."

A younger person put on mechanical ventilation - life support - can be weaned off the machine and recover, but that can be difficult or impossible for an older person. The longer a person is on ventilation the less the chance of recovery, said the chief executive of the Faculty of Consulting Physicians of South Africa.

"It indicates a very poor prognosis for recovery because it means that he's either too weak or too sick to breathe on his own," said Dr. Adri Kok, who has no connection to Mandela's care.

"Usually if a person does need that - any person, not keeping in mind his age at all - it would be indicative of a grave illness."

"When they say 'perilous' I think that would be a fair description," she said.

In Mandela's hometown, Qunu, on Thursday, the bodies of three of his children were returned to their original resting site following the court order.

Relatives and community elders attended a ceremony on the Mandela property. The reburial took place in Qunu, where Mandela grew up and where he has said he wants to be buried. Forensic tests earlier confirmed the remains were those of Mandela's children.

Grandson Mandla Mandela moved the bodies to his village of Mvezo - Nelson Mandela's birthplace - in 2011. The towns are about 15 miles apart. Fifteen Mandela family members pursued court action last week to force the grandson to move the bodies back to their original burial site.

Mandla Mandela told reporters Thursday that "my grandfather, like myself, would be highly disappointed in what is unraveling."