JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Nelson Mandela faced a fourth day in hospital Tuesday where he was said to be in a serious but stable condition receiving intensive care for a lung infection, as South Africans to come to terms with the mortality of their anti-apartheid hero.
The 94-year-old former president was rushed to a Pretoria hospital early Saturday, in the latest of a series of health scares that have been met with prayers and increasing concern.
“He is receiving intensive care treatment,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj, who served jail time with Mandela, told AFP on Monday.
He “remains in hospital, and his condition is unchanged,” the presidency said.
The government had described Mandela, South Africa s first black president, as being in a “serious but stable” condition on Saturday.
On Monday Mandela was visited by his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and their daughter Zindzi.
His two other daughters paid him a visit on Sunday, while his current wife Graca Machel has been by his bedside since his admission to hospital.
Little information has been released about Mandela s condition, but he has a long history of lung problems since being diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988.
It is the fourth hospital stay in seven months for the man beloved as a global symbol of peace and forgiveness and the father of the “Rainbow Nation”.
The African Union Commission chief, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said she has heard that Mandela is “responding positively to treatment.”
“He has done his part. We just pray that he recovers,” said Kennedy Moraga outside a private specialist heart clinic in Pretoria, where he is believed to be receiving treatment.
Meanwhile access to the revered statesman has been restricted to close family members in a bid to reduce the risk of further infections.
In late April, President Jacob Zuma and top party officials were photographed with an unsmiling Mandela looking exceedingly frail at his Johannesburg home.
The visit prompted allegations that the underfire ruling party was exploiting Mandela for political gain.
The ANC — facing 2014 elections — has lost much of its Mandela shine amid widespread corruption, poverty and poor public services.
The party and the government on Monday denied local media reports that they had been barred from visiting Mandela in hospital by the former leader s entourage.
— A legacy that will never die —
Maharaj told AFP the authorities wanted “to create a conducive environment for his recovery”.
“Close loved ones are going to him for that reason, that s all, nothing else,” he said. “He is receiving treatment and we want him to receive the treatment in the best condition for his family.”
“They would like to limit the flow of visitors.
“The president will visit him when it s appropriate,” he said, adding that Zuma does not want “to invade that space willy-nilly”.
Mandela, who turns 95 next month, is back in hospital two months after being discharged in April following treatment for pneumonia.
He has not been seen in public since the World Cup final in South Africa in July 2010, and has not been politically active for years.
“It s time to let him go,” was the stark front-page headline in the Sunday Times newspaper, reflecting the mood of many in the country.
Fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined the legions of local and international personalities wishing the ailing leader a speedy recovery.
“As the beloved father of our nation … once again endures the ravages of time in hospital our prayers are for his comfort and his dignity,” a statement from Desmond and Leah Tutu s foundation said.
While Twitter users expressed sadness and urged a quick recovery, they were also prepared for the worst.
“It s time to let Nelson Mandela go. He has served his country. Let him rest with dignity and a legacy that will never die,” tweeted Ketha Msane.
Mandela s departure is unlikely to unsettle the day-to-day running of South Africa, according to analyst Daniel Silke.
But his passing may unnerve the markets in the face of a rising wave of labour unrest and pressure on the rand.
“The illness of Nelson Mandela and his potential passing doesn t come at a good time for the country economically and could create a degree of instability in the markets,” said Silke.
In December, he spent 18 days in hospital, his longest stay since walking free from an apartheid prison in 1990.
In March he was admitted for a scheduled overnight check-up before returning later that month for 10 days suffering from pneumonia.
President Zuma in March appeared to prepare the nation for Mandela s passing, saying it “should be thinking about” his going home.
After serving just one term as president, Mandela turned his energy to the battle against AIDS and conflict resolution, before stepping out of the public eye a decade ago at the age of 85.