South African President Jacob Zuma cancelled a scheduled trip to neighboring Mozambique on Thursday, intensifying speculation about a deterioration in the health of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who remains critically ill in hospital.
Zuma made his decision not to leave the country after visiting Mandela late on Wednesday in the Pretoria hospital where he has been for nearly three weeks, a statement from his office said.
"Clearly the issue of seriousness has been such that President Jacob Zuma has cancelled his trip," presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told Talk Radio 702.
He declined to comment on reports that Mandela was on life support, saying: "I cannot confirm any clinical details."
Asked whether the seriousness of Mandela's condition could force changes to the schedule of a planned visit to South Africa this weekend by U.S. President Barack Obama, Maharaj said it was too early to say.
He pointed out that Obama was also visiting two other countries, Senegal and Tanzania, starting in the Senegalese capital on Wednesday night.
Mandela - or Madiba, as he is affectionately known - is revered among most of South Africa's 53 million people as the architect of the 1994 transition to multi-racial democracy after three centuries of white domination.
However, his latest hospitalization - his fourth in six months - has reinforced a realization that the father of the post-apartheid "Rainbow Nation" will not be around for ever.
The deterioration in Mandela's health last weekend to "critical" from "serious but stable" caused a perceptible switch in the national mood, from prayers for his recovery to preparations for a fond farewell.