Nelson Mandela's condition in a Pretoria hospital remained critical for a second straight day Monday, said South Africa's president who described the stricken anti-apartheid hero as being "asleep" when he visited Mandela the previous evening.
The file photo shows former South African President Nelson Mandela as he celebrates his 94th birthday with family in Qunu, South Africa on July 18, 2012.
President Jacob Zuma told at least 60 foreign and South African journalists that doctors are doing everything possible to ensure the 94-year-old's wellbeing and comfort on his 17th day in the hospital. The president repeated some of the content of a presidential statement issued on Sunday and refused to give any details about Mandela's condition, saying: "I'm not a doctor."
"Madiba is critical in the hospital, and this is the father of democracy. This is the man who fought and sacrificed his life to stay in prison, the longest-serving prisoner in South Africa. He is one of those who has contributed to democracy," Zuma said, using Mandela's clan name. "All of us in the country should accept the fact that Madiba is now old. As he ages, his health will ... trouble him and I think what we need to do as a country is to pray for him."
Zuma, who in the past has given an overly sunny view of Mandela's health, briefly described his visit to the hospital in the capital and seeing Mandela.
"It was late, he was already asleep," Zuma said. "And we then had a bit of a discussion with the doctors as well as his wife, Graca Machel, and we left."
Asked why none of Mandela's doctors had been made available for a news briefing, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said an arrangement had been made in consultation with Mandela's family whereby information would be provided through a "single source in an authoritative way."
"We've come to that arrangement on the basis that we need to respect the privacy of the family, we need to adhere to doctor-patient confidentiality," he said.
"You can be assured that what we are saying is based on agreement with the doctors," Maharaj said. Doctors approve the text of announcements on Mandela's health, and believe some media reporting has transgressed professional ethics, he said.
Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president after the end of apartheid in 1994, was hospitalized on June 8 for what the government said was a recurring lung infection. This is his fourth hospitalization since December.
Mandela was jailed for 27 years under white racist rule and was released 23 years ago, in 1990. He then played a leading role in steering the divided country from the apartheid era to an all-race democracy, becoming South Africa's first black president in all-race elections in 1994.
As a result of his sacrifice and peacemaking efforts, he is seen by many around the world as a symbol of reconciliation.