Johannesburg – South Africa's much-loved "special child", Ontlametse Phalatse, has died.
Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, broke the sad news of Ontlametse's death at midnight on social media.
"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Ontlametse Phalatse. May her great spirit rest in eternal peace," Bogopane-Zulu wrote.
Ontlametse was one of the two South African young women living with Progeria, an extremely rare genetic disorder in which symptoms resembling aspects of ageing are manifested at a very early age.
Also read: PICS: Pretoria miracle girl charms JZ
Doctors did not think Ontlametse would live to see her 14th birthday, but last month she turned 18 after having finished matric.
She was from Hebron, outside Mabopane in Tshwane. According to a statement posted on Ontlametse's Facebook page on Wednesday morning, Ontlametse died at George Mukhari Academic Hospital in Ga-Rankuwa, Pretoria, on Tuesday.
"It is with great sadness to inform you of the passing of our first lady, Ontlametse Ntlami Phalatse. She experienced breathing difficulties yesterday and was rushed to Hebron Clinic, then was transferred to Dr George Mukhari," read the statement.
"The doctors did everything possible to save her but unfortunately she passed on. She was surrounded by her mother, brother, family members and friends."
The statement said funeral arrangements would be communicated during the course of the week. Ontlametse's goal was to be a life coach and motivational speaker.
Last month, Ontlametse paid a courtesy call on President Jacob Zuma at his Mahlamba Ndlopfu residence in Pretoria as part of her "bucket list".
The courtesy call was on her wishlist and that she wanted to meet the President before her 18th birthday, which was on March 25.
"She is indeed a very special guest and I'm pleased to have met her. She's very sharp and articulate. We have discussed many things relating to her rare genetic disorder and undertaken to assist her in some of the wishes she has related to me," Zuma said.
Ontlametse was accompanied by her mother, Bellone Phalatse, Adv Bonginkosi Ngubane, a Trustee of the Ontlametse Phalatse Trust and her guardian Dr Babalwa Funda kaMabhoza.
Zuma described meeting Ontlametse as a "very special and a great honour".
Ontlametse described meeting Zuma as the highest honour and a fulfillment of one of her wishes, describing him as "warm, kind and easy to talk to."
Zuma committed to build Ontlametse’s family a home and provide her with transport for her special needs as well as improved medical care.
The President committed the Jacob G Zuma Foundation to working with her Ontlametse Phalatse Trust to assist her, and that he would also speak to relevant government departments as she is a "special child of South Africa".
Zuma also presented Phalatse with a birthday cake as well as a bouquet of flowers.
Ontlametse's death has evoked an outpouring of emotional tributes on social media.