Two leading South Africans are calling for an end to a bitter dispute within Nelson Mandela's family as the anti-apartheid leader remains in critical but stable condition in hospital.

Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu appealed to relatives in a statement issued Thursday night to not "besmirch" Mandela's name and overcome their differences, being played out in a legal case over family gravesites.

Later on a radio talk show in Johannesburg, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe also called for an end to the feud.

"It’s all very sad, but we’ve got to continue keeping the family and Madiba (Mandela) in our prayers, hope Madiba will recover, and also that the family will manage its own affairs in a dignified manner," Motlanthe said.

Tutu used even stronger language as he urged the family to make peace.

"Please, please, please may we think not only of ourselves? It's almost like spitting in Madiba's face," he said in a statement.

"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," Tutu said.

There are conflicting reports on the health of the 94-year-old former South African president, almost four weeks after he was admitted to a hospital in Pretoria for a serious lung infection.

Newly released court papers say Mandela is in a "permanent vegetative state," but the government denies it.


'Permanent vegetative state'

Agence France-Presse reported Thursday that court documents filed on June 26 indicate that Mandela is on life-support.

"He is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life-support machine," lawyers for some of Mandela's family said, according to AFP. "The Mandela family have been advised by the medical practitioners that his life support machine should be switched off."

The court documents were filed by members of Mandela's family as part of their bid to secure the return of the bodies of three of his children to the family burial plot in his hometown of Qunu. In 2011, the bodies were taken by Mandela's grandson, Mandla Mandela, the oldest male heir and a tribal chief, who moved them to his village of Mvezo — Nelson Mandela's birthplace

Mandla Mandela later told reporters he would not challenge the court's ruling that ordered the exhumation of the remains from Mvezo, because "it would serve no purpose."

However, he also expressed bitterness at family members, who he says made him a "soft target" in the reburial case after he took a stand against their long-running bid to remove three appointees from a Mandela charitable trust.

With files from The Associated Press