JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- After three days of silence on the illness of national icon Nelson Mandela, President Jacob Zuma's office issued a three-line statement Tuesday announcing that the anti-apartheid hero and Nobel Peace Prize winner is suffering from a lung infection.
Mandela's hospitalization Saturday for medical tests caused national alarm. Zuma's office said Monday that the former president was "in good hands" without commenting on his condition.
On Tuesday, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said new tests indicated that the 94-year-old Mandela was suffering from a recurrence of a previous lung infection.
"Doctors have concluded the tests, and these have revealed a recurrence of a previous lung infection, for which Madiba is receiving appropriate treatment and he is responding to the treatment," he said, referring to Mandela's clan name.
"President Zuma thanks the public for continuous support to former President Mandela and his family at this time."
Anxiety rose late Monday after Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, was reported as telling a local television station that it was painful to watch her husband's health deteriorate.
"To see him aging, it pains you. You understand and you know it has to happen. The spirit and the sparkle, you see that somehow it’s fading," she said.
By late Tuesday, however, the television station said Machel's comments were from a 2009 interview and weren't related to Mandela's current health crisis.
"We regret any confusion which may have been caused," the station said in a statement on Twitter.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison during the black struggle against apartheid, and contracted tuberculosis while he was in jail. He has been increasingly frail in recent years, suffered a respiratory infection in 2011 and underwent surgery to diagnose an abdominal complaint early this year.
He became South Africa's first black president in the nation's first democratic vote in 1994 and served one term. Afterward he formed a charity, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, which advocates for and supports children, particularly those who are vulnerable, have special needs or who have lost parents to AIDS.
His hospitalization has caused an outpouring of concern on Twitter and elsewhere, with many people writing they could not imagine South Africa without him.
Mandela was last seen in public in 2010 when he attended the final of soccer's World Cup tournament, hosted by South Africa. The event was marked by personal tragedy when his great-granddaughter was killed in a car accident while being driven home from a concert to mark the opening of the event.
He occasionally receives foreign dignitaries. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Mandela last summer at his home in Qunu, his ancestral village, not far from his birthplace.
The elder statesman plays no role in domestic politics nor does he comment on international or diplomatic issues, having retired from public life.