CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- The office of South African President Jacob Zuma denied media reports that former leader Nelson Mandela is in a "vegetative" state in the hospital.

"Former President Mandela has been and remains under the care of a multi-disciplinary panel of South African medical experts," the presidency said in a statement Thursday. He is in a "critical, but stable condition" and doctors "deny that the former president is in a vegetative state."

The 94-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner has been hospitalized since June 8 to receive treatment for a lung infection. Agence France-Presse and Sky News reported Thursday that doctors had advised family members that Mandela's life support machine should be turned off as he is in a permanent vegetative state. The reports cited court documents dated June 26 that were submitted in relation to a family dispute over the burial site of three of Mandela's children.

Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for opposing white minority rule, has been hospitalized four times since December. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for negotiating a peaceful transition to democracy and became the country's first black president a year later when the African National Congress won the first all-race elections.

The former leader is "sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes he is in pain, but he is fine," his wife, Graca Machel, said Thursday, according to Johannesburg-based EWN.

Mandela's grandson, Mandla, lost a court battle on Wednesday to keep the remains of Mandela's three children in Mvezo village in Eastern Cape province, where he is tribal chief. Family members, including Mandela's daughter Makaziwe, had asked the court to have the bodies returned to Qunu, where they were buried until Mandla removed them two years ago, according to Johannesburg-based City Press newspaper.

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