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Australia’s Resources Minister Gary Gray has  apologised for mistakenly telling a business dinner that ailing former  South African president Nelson Mandela had died.

Gray conveyed the information to the Minerals Council of Australia’s official dinner at Parliament House in Canberra, which he attended in place of Julia Gillard who was in the throes of a leadership crisis Wednesday night.

Nelson Mandela

“I apologise unreservedly and am deeply sorry to have relayed what I thought was reliable advice,” Gray said in statement, adding that he had also conveyed his apology to South Africa’s high commissioner, the Australian parliament and the Minerals Council.

Mandela, 94, is on life support in a Pretoria hospital, where he has been for almost three weeks with lung troubles stemming from his 27 years locked up on the notorious Robben Island and in other apartheid prisons.