JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South African President Jacob Zuma will visit the ailing Nelson Mandela in a Pretoria hospital, his spokesman said Monday, adding that this would be done discreetly "at the appropriate time."
A statement from the president's office earlier in the day reported no improvement in Mandela's condition. The country's beloved former president remains in a serious but stable condition as he is treated for a lung infection, the statement said.
"[Zuma's] focus now is to allow the medical team every opportunity to concentrate on their job, to allow the closest relatives to go there and be close to him," presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told reporters. "As head of state, President Zuma will visit at the appropriate time. We just want Madiba to get better," he said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
Family members, including Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, visited him Monday as he spent his third day under intensive care in a Pretoria hospital. Madikizela-Mandela left late Monday evening.
The somber wording of the government statement, its first since Saturday, underscored the seriousness of Mandela's current health crisis.
"President Jacob Zuma reiterates his call for South Africa to pray for Madiba and the family during this time," the statement said.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been battling recurrent lung infections since December. He again fell ill last week and was transferred to a hospital at 1:30 a.m. Saturday after his condition deteriorated, officials said.
Maharaj said visits to the former president were limited because Mandela is in intensive care. Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, has been at his bedside.
Fellow Nobel laureate and the retired Anglican archbishop for Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, issued a statement Monday saying he was praying for Mandela.
"As the beloved father of our nation uTata Nelson Mandela once again endures the ravages of time in hospital. Our prayers are for his comfort and his dignity," Tutu said in the statement posted on the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation website. "We offer our thanks to God for the extraordinary gift of Mr. Mandela and wish his family strength."
On Sunday, South Africans prayed in churches across the country for their former leader, revered for his role in ending apartheid and ushering in a period of peaceful democracy.
His personal sacrifice during the anti-apartheid struggle, including the 27 years he spent imprisoned for fighting white-minority rule, has inspired millions around the globe.
The man South Africans often refer to as "our icon" contracted tuberculosis in prison and has had several lung infections in the past two years.
He was released from a previous hospital stay on April 6, after having fluid drained from his chest following a pneumonia diagnosis. He spent several more weeks in a hospital with a lung infection in December, when he also had gallstone surgery.
On social media networks such as Twitter, some South Africans urged Mandela to keep fighting, or said there would never be a right time for the country to lose him.
"Pull through this Madiba! We're praying for you," one wrote.
"Get well soon, Madiba, South Africa needs you forever," said another.
But others said it was time for the country to let him go.
"Dear God, please let Nelson Mandela rest. He's seen it all, has done good in this world. This in-and-out-of-hospital lifestyle ain't merry," said one message.
"If it's Madiba's time, we need to let him go," said another. "He's served the most honorable purpose on earth and heaven needs their precious angel."
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