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JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela received visits from family members today at a hospital where the former president and anti-apartheid leader was being treated for a recurring lung infection, while South Africans expressed their appreciation for a man widely regarded as the father of the nation.
There was no official update on 94-year-old Mandela after his second night in the hospital. His condition was described as “serious but stable” on Saturday.
The office of President Jacob Zuma had said that Mandela was taken to a Pretoria hospital after his condition deteriorated at around 1:30 a.m. on Saturday.
The anti-apartheid leader has now been taken to a hospital four times since December, with the last discharge coming on April 6 after doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia and drained fluid from his lung area.
Members of Mandela’s family today were seen visiting the Pretoria hospital where he is believed to be staying. They included Makaziwe Mandela, the eldest of the ex-leader’s three surviving children, and Ndileka Mandela, one of his 17 grandchildren.
Worshippers at a church service in the Johannesburg township of Soweto prayed today for the recovery of Mandela, 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. He retired from public life years ago and had received medical care at his Johannesburg home until his latest transfer to a hospital.
At the Regina Mundi church in Soweto, Father Sebastian Rousso said 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.”
There is a stained glass image of Mandela with arms raised in the Catholic church, a center of protests and funeral services for activists during the apartheid years.
“We still need him in our lives because he did so much for us,” said Mantsho Moralo, a receptionist who was in the congregation. Siyabonga Nyembe, a student, described Mandela as a “pillar of strength” for South Africans.
A stream of tourists visited Mandela’s former home, now a museum, on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. Visitors and vendors wished a quick recovery for the man whose sacrifices in the fight against apartheid made their lives better, even if South Africa today is struggling today with high unemployment and other severe challenges.
“He’s like one in a million. I don’t think we’re ever going to get a leader like him. We’re living the life that we have because of him and for that we wish him well,” said Seponono Kekana, who toured the brick, one-storey house.
On April 29, state television broadcast footage of a visit by Zuma and other leaders of the ruling African National Congress to Mandela’s home. Zuma said at the time that Mandela was in good shape, but the footage - the first public images of Mandela in nearly a year - showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Zuma tried to hold his hand.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been particularly vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his long imprisonment. The bulk of that period was spent on Robben Island, an outpost off the coast of Cape Town where Mandela and other prisoners spent part of the time toiling in a stone quarry.
The Sunday Times, a South African newspaper, quoted Andrew Mlangeni, an old friend of Mandela, as saying he wished the former president would get better but noted his infirmity had become a drawn-out process. He said Mandela had been taken to the hospital “too many times” and that there was a possibility he would not be well again.
“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,” said Mlangeni, a co-defendant of Mandela in the 1960s trial on sabotage charges that led to a sentence of life imprisonment for them and other anti-apartheid leaders.
“Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow. We will say thank you, God, you have given us this man, and we will release him too,” Mlangeni told the newspaper.
Nhlanhla Ngcobobo, a street vendor who works a few steps from the Mandela Family Restaurant next to the former leader’s old home, said the ailing Mandela was a kind of psychological anchor for his compatriots. South Africa has held peaceful elections since 1994 and remains an economic powerhouse on the continent, but many worry that the sense of promise that Mandela represented in the early years of democracy is in peril.
“There’s a lot of corruption and when Mandela dies, people will start feeling they can do what they like and corruption will be worse than it is,” Ngcobobo said. “By him being alive, there’s a lot more order.”