Jacob Zuma says 'all are praying' for Nelson Mandela

South African president Jacob Zuma: "Mr Mandela is a good fighter. He'll be with us very soon"

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South African President Jacob Zuma says Nelson Mandela is "very serious but stabilised" in hospital and that "all are praying" for his recovery.

Mr Zuma said the doctors were doing a "very good job", adding that the former president was a "good fighter".

The 94-year-old is spending his fifth night in a Pretoria hospital suffering from a recurrent lung infection.

Relatives, including his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, visited the ailing former leader on Tuesday.

Joined by two of his daughters, the former president's ex-wife and partner of 34 years left amid tight security, making no comment.

Outside the hospital, a cluster of people gathered eager for any news of the former leader's condition.

Mr Mandela has been in intensive care since he was taken to hospital on Saturday for the third time this year.

In December, he spent 18 days undergoing treatment for a lung infection and gallstones.

'Good fighter'

Nelson Mandela: Key dates

Nelson Mandela in June 2010
  • 1918 Born in the Eastern Cape
  • 1943 Joins African National Congress
  • 1956 Charged with high treason, but charges dropped
  • 1962 Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison
  • 1964 Charged again, sentenced to life
  • 1990 Freed from prison
  • 1993 Wins Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1994 Elected first black president
  • 1999 Steps down as leader
  • 2004 Retires from public life
  • 2010 Last public appearance - at World Cup finals

Referring to Mr Mandela as "the father of democracy in South Africa", Mr Zuma said earlier: "We need him to be with us and I'm sure all the messages that have been pouring in to wish him a speedy recovery are highly welcome.

"And I'm sure, knowing him as I do, he is a good fighter. He will be with us very soon."

Mr Zuma was speaking in a televised interview broadcast on Tuesday evening, having been given a "thorough briefing" on Monday by Mr Mandela's doctors.

Mr Zuma said: "I was very confident that they know what they are doing and they are doing a very good job, whilst he is very serious but he is stabilised and we are all praying for him, really, to recuperate quickly.

"We need him to go with us," added the ANC leader.

The South African government is trying to balance the public demand for information about Mr Mandela with the need for privacy for his family, knowing that there's still much uncertainty about the days ahead, says the BBC's Karen Allen in Pretoria.

Before being admitted to hospital, Mr Mandela had been ill for some days at his Johannesburg home, with a recurrence of his long-standing lung problems, said a statement from the president's office earlier on Tuesday.

He was taken to hospital when his condition worsened at 01:30 on Saturday (23:30 GMT Friday).

Widely referred to by his clan name Madiba, Nelson Mandela served as president from 1994 to 1999.

He was previously imprisoned for 27 years, and is believed to have suffered damage to his lungs while working in a prison quarry.

He contracted tuberculosis in the 1980s while being held in jail on the windswept Robben Island.

He retired from public life in 2004 and has been rarely seen at official events since.

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