by Sibongile KHUMALO
JOHANNESBURG, June 11, 2013 (AFP) – Nelson Mandela remains in a “very serious” but stable condition, South African President Jacob Zuma said Tuesday as the frail anti-apartheid icon showed no sign of improvement after four days in hospital battling a lung infection.
Zuma told state television that he been briefed by doctors attending to the 94-year-old former statesman and was “very confident that they know what they are doing and they are doing a very good job.”
“We are all praying for him really to recuperate quickly,” he added, as Mandela readied for a fourth night in intensive care with his adoring nation on tenterhooks over his latest health scare.
Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj earlier told AFP “stable has not meant better or worse, what it means is that his condition is not changing.”
Relatives of South Africa’s first black president flocked to the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria to be at his bedside as fears grew over his condition.
Security was tightened around the private specialist facility where a dozen armed police stood guard outside and incoming vehicles and pedestrians were searched amid a heavy media presence. Some international media outlets have rented balconies from tenants of highrise apartments adjacent to the hospital.
A police sergeant who asked not to be named told AFP, officers had been deployed at the hospital “to protect the members of his family who come to visit him.”
Mandela’s daughters Makaziwe and Zindzi, as well as former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, were seen entering the hospital on Tuesday afternoon.
His current wife Graca Machel called off a trip to London last week to be with her ailing husband.
Tuesday marked 49 years to the day since Mandela was convicted in 1964 for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid government. A day later he was sentenced to life in prison.
He spent much of the subsequent 27 years behind bars on wind-swept Robben Island, near Cape Town, where he contracted tuberculosis.
Mandela’s latest health scare has been met with a growing acceptance among South Africans that their hero, who became the first black leader of the country after historic all-race elections in 1994, may be nearing the end of his life.
He has a long history of lung problems since being diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988, and this is the fourth hospital stay since December for the Nobel Peace Prize winner and father of the “Rainbow Nation”.
Two months ago Mandela, who turns 95 next month, was discharged following treatment for pneumonia.
In December he underwent surgery to remove gallstones as he recovered from a lung infection. Then in March he was admitted for a scheduled overnight check-up before returning later that month for 10 days.
“Pneumonia is a killer disease,” said Keertan Dheda, the head of pulmonology at the University of Cape Town.
“In Mr Mandela’s case, besides age, we know that he has previously had tuberculosis and that can weaken the lung defences and make one more prone to infections,” he said.
“Secondly we know that Mandela worked in the quarry on Robben Island for many years and he has been chronically exposed to dust from crushing rocks, and we know that also is a potent suppressor of your efficient lung defences.”
In late April, Zuma and top party officials were photographed with an unsmiling Mandela looking exceedingly frail at his Johannesburg home.
The visit prompted allegations that the embattled 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.
Mandela 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.
“I think there will be concerns from outside South Africa that Mandela is seen as the glue that holds South Africa together,” analyst Daniel Silke told AFP.
“But I think that this is something long gone, frankly.”
After serving just one term as president, Mandela turned his energy to the battle against AIDS and to conflict resolution, before stepping out of the public eye at age 85.
His hospitalisation has prompted an outpouring of well wishes from around the globe.
Ordinary people, young and old, on Tuesday left messages of support outside his home in northern Johannesburg.
A couple wearing t-shirts bearing the words “We love you Papa Mandela” and “We love you Papa Madiba” placed a teddy bear in a similar t-shirt at one of the pot plants outside the gate.
Others wrote messages of support on small stones outside the high security walls, while a group of schoolchildren stopped by to sing for him to “get well”.
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