JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela is being kept alive by a breathing machine and faces ‘‘impending death,’’ court documents show, as his family gravesite was restored Thursday.
Mandela’s health is ‘‘perilous,’’ according to the documents, which were part of a court order 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. 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 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, for any person 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 Mandela’s children were returned to their original resting place.
Family members and community elders attended a ceremony on the Mandela property that included the singing of hymns. Mandela grew up in Qunu and has requested that he be buried there. Forensic tests earlier confirmed the remains were those of Mandela’s children.
Grandson Mandla Mandela had moved the bodies to his village of Mvezo — Nelson Mandela’s birthplace — in 2011. The two towns are about 15 miles apart. Fifteen Mandela family members pursued court action to force the grandson to move the bodies to the original site.
Mandla Mandela — the oldest male Mandela heir and a tribal chief — told reporters Thursday ‘‘my grandfather like myself would be highly disappointed in what is unraveling.’’
The bitter family feud comes as Mandela remains in critical condition nearly a month after being hospitalized for a recurring lung infection.
Mlawu Tyatyeka, an expert on the Xhosa culture of Mandela’s family, said the court case about the graves was decided quickly because the family knows that Mandela will soon die.
‘‘It’s not a case of wishing him to die. It’s a case of making sure that by the time he dies, his dying wish has been fulfilled,’’ he said. ‘‘We have a belief that should you ignore a dying wish, all bad will befall you.’’
Meanwhile, Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, said the former president is sometimes uncomfortable but seldom in pain. She spoke at a fund-raising drive for a children’s hospital that will be named after the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader.