Update: Late on Thursday night, more than 12 hours after the first tentative reports surfaced, the Presidency issued a statement it characterised as "a clarification."
"We confirm our earlier statement released this afternoon after President Jacob Zuma visited Madiba in hospital that Madiba remains in a critical, but stable condition," the statement read. "The doctors deny that the former President is in a vegetative state."
A family representative also denied that any court papers had contained such a statement.
Reports on Thursday said Nelson Mandela was in a "permanent vegetative state" according to his doctors, who have advised that the machines keeping him alive should be switched off.
The documents in question appear to be from the legal claims filed in the Eastern Cape High Court in Mthatha, which on Thursday saw three of Mandela’s children reburied in Qunu. However, the documents were not part of the record made public this week and the Mail & Guardian has not had sight of the affidavit quoted by AFP and others.
According to the agency, the legal filing made late last week reads:
"He is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life support machine.
"The Mandela family have been advised by the medical practitioners that his life support machine should be switched off."
In court documents that were made public on Wednesday, Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe Mandela described his health as “perilous”, and confirmed that the elder statesman was on a ventilator.
Latest version of Mandela’s will
The Mail & Guardian on Thursday learnt the latest version of Mandela’s will did not include a clause preventing him from being put on life support or limiting the amount of time he could be kept alive in a vegetative state – provisions typically known as a living will.
That effectively leaves the decision on whether and for how long he should be kept alive to his next of kin.
Also on Thursday, Mandela’s wife Graça Machel made a rare appearance in public to thank South Africans for their thoughts and prayers, the South African Press Association reported.
“Although Madiba sometimes may be uncomfortable, a very few times he is in pain, but he is fine,” Machel said.
Neither the presidency nor Makaziwe Mandela's legal representatives could be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma on Thursday visited the Pretoria hospital where Mandela is being treated, and the presidency subsequently reiterated that Mandela’s condition “remains critical but stable".
"We appreciate all the love and compassion. Madiba is receiving the best medical care from a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals who are at his bedside around the clock," said Zuma in a statement released after his visit.
Zuma's visit was hijacked by a congregation of members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) outside the hospital. The media focussed all their attention to the head of Parliament for NUM, Madoda Sambatha, who gave interviews to just about every TV and radio station.
The outspoken union leader called Madiba the next Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary. "His legacy will be printed on T-shirts and he will be spoken about for centuries and generations to come. But I hope we will not see this as an opportunity to make money. I see some capitalists are starting to creep in," he said.
Sambatha also took the opportunity to plead with the ruling party and mining stakeholders to come to a resolution that would create better working conditions for miners. He referred to the mining pact that is currently hanging in the balance.
"If we break down the legacy of Nelson, you will find that at the core of his struggle was for all South Africans to be treated equally and fairly. I will never believe that we are honouring his legacy if we continue to kill each other over issues [of] human rights."