Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu has warned the Mandela family to end a bitter feud over his burial site.
The human rights activist is urging them not to "besmirch" his name.
The retired archbishop appealed to the family of Mr Mandela, also known by his clan name Madiba, to overcome their differences.
“Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves. It’s almost like spitting in Madiba’s face,” Mr Tutu said in a statement released by a foundation he leads.
“Your anguish, now, is the nation’s anguish – and the world’s. We want to embrace you, to support you, to shine our love for Madiba through you. Please may we not besmirch his name.”
Nelson Mandela's doctors have been forced to deny reports yesterday that the former South African president is in a "permanent vegetative state".
Mr Mandela has spent the past four weeks in a Pretoria hospital where he is said to be in a critical condition.
The former president’s health is “perilous”, according to documents filed in the court case that resulted in the remains of his three dead children being reburied yesterday in their original graves.
“The anticipation of his impending death is based on real and substantial grounds,” the court filing said.
The office of President Jacob Zuma also said doctors denied reports that Mr Mandela was in a “vegetative state”.
A younger person put on mechanical ventilation – life support – can be weaned off the machine and recover, but that it can be difficult or impossible for an older person. The longer a person is on ventilation the less the 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 Mr 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 Mr Mandela’s home town Qunu, the bodies of three of his children were returned to their original resting site following the court order.
Family members and community elders attended a ceremony on the Mandela property that included the singing of hymns. The reburial took place where Mr Mandela grew up and where has said he wants to be buried. Forensic tests earlier confirmed the remains were those of his children.
Grandson Mandla Mandela 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 last week to force the grandson to move the bodies back to their original burial site.
Mlawu Tyatyeka, an expert on the Xhosa culture of Mr Mandela’s family, said the court case over the graves was decided quickly because the family knows that Mr 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, Mr Mandela’s wife said the former president was sometimes uncomfortable but seldom in pain while being treated in hospital.
Graca Machel spoke about her husband’s condition at a fund-raising drive for a children’s hospital that will be named after Mr Mandela.
“Whatever is the outcome of his stay in hospital, that will remain the second time where he offered his nation an opportunity to be united under the banner of our flag, under the banner of our constitution,” she said.
Mr Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years during white racist rule and was freed in 1990 before being elected president in all-race elections. He won the Nobel Peace Prize along with former President FW de Klerk.