As Nelson Mandela, the revered former South African president, remains hospitalized in critical condition, his compatriots confronted the fact that he appears to be nearing the end of his life:

The sense of anticipation and foreboding about 94-year-old Mandela’s fate has grown since late Sunday, when the South African government declared that the condition of the statesman, who was rushed to a hospital in Pretoria on June 8, had deteriorated. . .

For many South Africans, Mandela’s decline is a far more personal matter, echoing the protracted and emotionally draining process of losing one of their own elderly relatives.

One nugget of wisdom about the arc of life and death came from Matthew Rusznyah, a 9-year-old boy who stopped outside Mandela’s home in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton to show his appreciation.

“We came because we care about Mandela being sick, and we wish we could put a stop to it, like snap our fingers,” he said. “But we can’t. It’s how life works.”

His mother, Lee Rusznyah, said Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison under apartheid before becoming South Africa’s first black president in all-race elections in 1994, had made the world a better place.

“All of us will end,” Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We just want him to be peacefully released, whatever he’s feeling at this moment, and to be reunited with his Maker at the perfect time, when God so wills.”

Associated Press

Mandela spent his life fighting the apartheid government, pursuing a more equitable and humane regime. Joe Davidson calls him “the ultimate public servant”:

I feel a personal connection to Mandela, as do probably the thousands of people who have met him. I began covering South Africa for the Wall Street Journal in 1986, when the government was an oppressive, violent, white racist regime. I later had numerous encounters with Mandela, from the time he was released from prison in 1990 to his election and inauguration in 1994 and beyond.

I’ve written about many public officials over the years. None can stand up to Mandela. What stands out most about him is his sense of principle. . .

Mandela’s inauguration marked the eradication of a system of government based on race and its replacement with a democratic one.

“We are both humbled and elevated by the honor and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first president of a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, to lead our country out of the valley of darkness,” he said at the time.

Joe Davidson

Meanwhile, President Obama begins a week-long visit to three African countries Wednesday, including South Africa:

Aides sketched out an ambitious itinerary for Obama, including bilateral meetings with the presidents of the three countries, as well as visits to Senegal’s Supreme Court to emphasize the importance of an independent judicial system and to a Tanzanian power plant to highlight programs to increase access to electricity.

Obama also plans to speak with youth leaders in Cape Town, South Africa, building on the administration’s focus on developing the next generation of political leadership on a continent where nearly one-third of the population is between the ages of 10 and 24. He will deliver a major address at a prominent university in that city to lay out his second-term Africa policy.

At a broader level, administration officials said, the trip is designed to establish a new paradigm in U.S.-Africa policy — moving away from the donor-recipient relationship based on aid programs that defined the Clinton and Bush eras. Instead, the Obama administration aims to create a more equal, and mutually beneficial, trade and development partnership as African nations increase their own capacities, said Gayle Smith, director for development and democracy on the National Security Council. . .

Critics of the president’s Africa policy said it is well past time for such a pivot. While there are still conflicts and despots, democracies are flourishing and the continent is home to vast reserves of oil and other mineral sources.

At the same time, Africa has become an increasing source of transnational security threats. From Somalia to Mali to Nigeria, anti-Western radical Islamists are waging insurgencies against American allies. Weak states in West Africa and in East Africa have allowed the smuggling of drugs and weapons to flourish, as well as the spread of infectious diseases.

David Nakamura and Sudarsan Raghavan

While in Africa, President Obama is slated to visit three countries, promoting democracy and economic opportunities.

Whether or not Obama will visit Mandela will depend on the wishes of Mandela’s family, according to White House aides. For past coverage of Mandela’s illness, continue reading here.