Doctors ordered 'a complete rest' for Mr Mandela, who was deemed to be suffering from exhaustion. An ANC spokesman said he had experienced a tough schedule recently and had cancelled all appointments until further notice. These included a trip to England, Scotland and Portugal next week, which was to have included lunch with John Major in London on Monday.
Anxieties that 74-year-old Mr Mandela might be seriously ill were dispelled by ANC leaders who were with him on Tuesday. Andrew Mlangeni, a member of the ANC's National Executive Committee, said that Mr Mandela was 'certainly not sick'. 'He attended the ANC NEC (National Executive Committee) meeting with us,' Mr Mlangeni said. 'He looked healthy.'
The same could not be said yesterday for the ANC as a whole. Mr Mandela himself has issued public assurances that ANC negotiators, who are led by the Secretary-General, Cyril Ramaphosa, have not entered into a 'power- sharing deal' with the government. But radicals within the ANC have refused to be fooled by what they view as an attempt by their president at semantic obfuscation.
What Mr Mandela has not denied, and what has indeed been confirmed by the government, is that an agreement has been reached for an interim government of national unity to be established after South Africa's first all-race elections, which are expected early next year. The coalition, membership of which will be determined by the number of votes each party wins, will rule for five years.
That, ANC hardliners say, amounts to a deal to share power. Leading the revolt against Mr Ramaphosa and fellow negotiators such as Joe Slovo, the Communist Party chairman, is Harry Gwala, the ANC's most powerful leader in Natal, a province radicalised by six years of bloody conflict between the ANC and Inkatha and its security force allies.
Mr Gwala, only two years younger than Mr Mandela and also a former political prisoner, issued a statement on Monday which struck a chord among substantial numbers of ANC activists.
'We find the agreement unacceptable,' Mr Gwala said, describing it as 'a drastic departure from what we have always known the ANC to stand for'. Unwavering in his perception that the war is not yet over, he added: 'This is indeed a strange way of appeasement. We are already setting down the rule of surrender before we meet the enemy. If we go out to negotiations with such terms of surrender, where do we draw the line?'
Mr Gwala made a proposal which, as he saw it, would resolve the matter once and for all. A national conference should be called to obtain a mandate from the ANC rank and file. This proposal, ANC sources said, was heatedly debated in yesterday's NEC meeting.
It was a shrewd move by Mr Gwala, the sources said, as to refuse would be to lay open the leadership to charges of anti-democratic elitism. Such a conference, however, is the last thing the likes of Mr Ramaphosa want. At best it would delay the negotiating process, and accordingly the election date. At worst, the interim government deal would be rejected, rendering pointless several months of painstaking bilateral negotiations with the government, plunging the ANC into the deepest leadership crisis of its history and casting the future of the country into doubt.