Mandela Remains In Hospital In Serious Condition

Nelson Mandela has been hospitalized since Saturday with a recurring lung infection. The government says his condition is unchanged — serious, but stable. But his poor health and advanced age — 94 — suggest the former president's days are numbered. Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu described the anti-apartheid campaigner as an "extraordinary gift".

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In South Africa, former President Nelson Mandela is being treated for a recurrent lung infection. He's been hospitalized for four days, and the president's office says his condition is serious but stable. Mandela is 94. This is his fourth hospitalization since December, and there's growing concern about his poor health. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Johannesburg.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: President Nelson Mandela is dominating the headlines, airwaves and the national conversation in South Africa since Saturday, when he was taken back to the hospital.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER: The 94-year-old was admitted to a Pretoria facility on Saturday morning...

QUIST-ARCTON: Local and international journalists are camped outside the medic clinic in the capital, Pretoria, where Mandela is receiving treatment for a persistent lung infection. Outside his home in Johannesburg, visitors like housekeeper Dina Mametsa(ph) come to pay their respects to Mandela.

DINA MAMETSA: We want to see him back again. What can I say? He's a nice leader.

QUIST-ARCTON: What has he done for South Africa?

MAMETSA: So many things. Freedom - we are free. Everybody's free in South Africa because of Tata, Tata Mandela.

QUIST-ARCTON: Teacher Lisa Ash drives up to the Mandela house along with her 2-year-old daughter, Tyler, and her big sister, who's 5. Mecah has drawn a picture for the ailing Nobel Peace Laureate, and lays her drawing lovingly among the colorful stones other visitors have left with messages of love, gratitude and support for Mandela. The little girl is too shy to talk, so her mother speaks for her.

LISA ASH: We all know Nelson Mandela. We all know exactly who he is. She also knows him and in a lot of the books we read to her. So that's why we were reading about him and she wanted to draw a picture and color it in for him.

QUIST-ARCTON: Mandela has a history of lung problems, dating back to his days as a political prisoner on Robben Island, where he contracted tuberculosis towards the end of his 27-year incarceration. However, South Africa's presidential spokesman, Mac Maharaj, urged people not to speculate about what might lay ahead.

MAC MAHARAJ: Our focus should be to ensure that the medical team is given the maximum opportunity to be totally focused on the job of treating former President Mandela. And everything is being done to keep him comfortable, enable him to get better. That should be the priority, rather than looking ahead and asking for speculative answers as to which way things can go.

QUIST-ARCTON: But South Africans are worried. Increasingly, there seems to be an acceptance that the man who became their first democratically elected president after decades of racist apartheid rule, may not make it to his 95th birthday on July 18th. Only a few weeks ago, the subject of Mandela's mortality was taboo. But speaking at an exhibition featuring Mandela's long and singular life, at Johannesburg's Apartheid Museum, Australian visitor Greg Whitby(ph) says that's the reality.

GREG WHITBY: I'm just so thankful that, you know, I've been alive when he's been alive. And I know he's not long with us, but he's left a great legacy. If every human being in the world was like that, we'd have a great planet. There's so much to learn from his simplicity, his humility, his deep perseverance. His love of people is extraordinary.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nelson Mandela dreamed of a rainbow nation, as he calls South Africa, with its mix of races, religions and cultures. That's a formidable vision, say sisters Emma and Abby Esrock, who are visiting Johannesburg from Los Angeles.

EMMA ESROCK: It's just awe-inspiring, the impact he had on everyone. I hope that he pulls through, and I want him to know that he is still a strong, powerful figure for everyone.

ABBY ESROCK: Just walking through this exhibit today at the Apartheid Museum, I'm amazed at the resilience he demonstrates, and continues to demonstrate. I hope that he is in peace because he is celebrated all over the world and especially in this wonderful country that I'm here, for the first time, in.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Johannesburg.

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