The South African government on Thursday denied that former president Nelson Mandela was in a permanent vegetative state, as outlined in court documents filed on June 26.
"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," said the statement, according to the AFP news agency.
"The doctors deny that the former President is in a vegetative state," the statement added.
Court documents obtained earlier Thursday by AFP showed that doctors treating Mandela said he was in a "permanent vegetative state" and advised his family to turn off his life support machine a week ago.
The June 26 court filing showed for the first time just how close the still critically ill 94-year-old came to death.
"He is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life support machine," lawyers said on behalf of 15 family members including his wife and three daughters, according to AFP.
"The Mandela family have been advised by the medical practitioners that his life support machine should be switched off.
"Rather than prolonging his suffering, the Mandela family is exploring this option as a very real probability."
According to family lawyer Wesley Hayes, the document was part of an effort to have a court urgently hear a dispute over the final resting place of three of Mandela's children, who were reburied amid a fierce family dispute Thursday.
Since the document was filed, the South African government, family members and Mandela's close friends have reported an improvement in his condition.
"He is clearly a very ill man, but he was conscious and he tried to move his mouth and eyes when I talked to him," Denis Goldberg, one of the men who was convicted with Mandela, told AFP after visiting him on Monday.
"He is definitely not unconscious," Goldberg said, adding that "he was aware of who I was."
Mandela was taken to the hospital on June 8 to be treated for what the government said was a recurring lung infection. South Africans have held prayers nationwide, and many have left flowers and messages of support outside the hospital as well as his home in Johannesburg.
On the day the court document was written President Zuma reported that Mandela's health had faltered and he cancelled a trip to Mozambique.
The next day the president said Mandela's condition had "improved during the course of the night".
Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, said last week the former president was showing “great improvement.”
In 1993, Mandela and then-South African President F.W. de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.
The iconic leader was elected the nation's first black president a year later, serving only one term, as he had promised.
Even as he has faded from the spotlight, he remains popular and is considered a hero of democracy in the nation. Last year, South Africa launched a new batch of banknotes with a picture of a smiling Mandela on the front.
Mandela's impact extends far beyond South African borders. After he left office, he mediated conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.
He has in the past criticized the U.S. through Israel, hinting in 2003 that then- President George W. Bush had no foresight because “Their friend Israel has got weapons of mass destruction, but because it’s their ally they won’t ask the U.N. to get rid of it. They just want the oil.”
Mandela also said once that “if the Palestinians are not free, no one is free”, a statement which anti-Israel groups have taken advantage of to accuse Israel of applying a policy of “apartheid” towards Arabs.