SOUTH Africans were last night united in prayer for Nelson Mandela, who spent a second day in hospital in a “serious condition” with a recurring lung infection.
Mandela, 94, a global symbol of triumph over adversity who became South Africa’s first black leader in 1994 after the defeat of apartheid, was taken to hospital early on Saturday when his frail health worsened.
It is the fourth time the former president has been in hospital since December.
During previous hospital visits the government had highlighted his “good spirits”. Last night they said he was in a “serious condition”, adding that he was stable, conscious, able to breathe on his own and believed to be communicating with his family.
His wife, Graça Machel, remained at his bedside last night.
Members of Mandela’s family were seen visiting the Pretoria hospital yesterday. They included Makaziwe Mandela, the eldest of his three surviving children, and Ndileka Mandela, one of 17 grandchildren.
South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper took a sombre tone, with the headline “It’s time to let him go”, quoting a longtime friend,Andrew Mlangeni.
He said: “The family must release him so that God may have his own way. They must release him spiritually and put their faith in the hands of God. Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow.”
Worshippers at a Sunday church service in the Johannesburg township of Soweto prayed for the recovery of their former president, who was freed in 1990 after 27 years as a prisoner of white racist rule and won election to the presidency in all-race elections in 1994.
At the Regina Mundi church, Father Sebastian Rousso said Mr Mandela, seen by many as a symbol of reconciliation for his peacemaking efforts, played a key role “not only for ourselves as South Africans, but for the world”.
“We wish him speedy recovery; he must get well,” Soweto resident Mlugisi Sekhosana said. “We know what he did for us in South Africa. All the nation, black and white, we wish him well.”
Mr Mandela has a history of lung problems dating back to his time on the wind-swept Robben Island prison camp near Cape Town. He has been particularly vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his 27-year imprisonment under apartheid.
President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said his lung condition was a problem that “comes and goes”.
“It gets treated and he gets better,” Mr Maharaj said. “He’s prone to lung infection. There’s a long history behind that. He’s suffered from lung infection at different times. The first time we came across it was years ago when he was in prison.”
Mr Maharaj added there was no suggestion that Mr Mandela was unconscious.
Yesterday, a small girl and her father stood outside Mr Mandela’s Johannesburg home with a stone on which was written a get-well message.
A young boy brought a bouquet that he handed over to guards at the house.
The Democratic Alliance, the main political opposition party, said in a statement: “Nelson Mandela is a father to South Africa and South Africans; every time he is admitted to hospital we feel saddened along with the rest of our country,”