Tribal king says Mandela 'conscious'

Nelson Mandela is conscious and recognises visitors, the king of his Thembu tribe told AFP Wednesday, after visiting the global icon in hospital.

"He is well," King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo said, giving an upbeat, but cautious account of the 94-year-old's condition.

"He could not talk, but he recognised me and made a few gestures of acknowledgement, like moving his eyes," said Dalindyebo, who is also a nephew of the former South African president.

He said his uncle was "assisted in many ways," and was attached to lots of tubes.

"He is under a lot of support. I'm sure it's the kind of support that he needs."

Dalindyebo had travelled from his village in the Eastern Cape to see Mandela, who has been receiving treatment for a lung condition for more than a month.

He arrived to Mandela's Pretoria hospital with a delegation of traditional chiefs to "pay their respects to the great leader".

On Tuesday, an official government update described Mandela's condition as "critical but stable," as members of his family gave positive accounts of his health.

Doctors are said to have ruled out turning off his life support machines unless there is serious organ failure.

Dalindyebo is among Mandela's family members who have become embroiled in a spat over the final resting place of the Nobel peace laureate.

He has accused Mandela's grandson Mandla -- who was forced by a court to return the remains of three of Mandela's children -- of disgracing the family name.

Dalindyebo had threatened to strip Mandla of his chieftaincy of Mvezo village, Mandela's birthplace.