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South Africans pray as Nelson Mandela battles lung infection

South Africans pray as Nelson Mandela battles lung infection
Worshipers at the Regina Mundi church in Soweto, a flash point during the anti-apartheid struggle, pray for Nelson Mandela as the ailing 94-year-old spent a second day in a hospital with a renewed lung infection.
(Alexander Joe / AFP/Getty Images)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Former President Nelson Mandela remained in serious but stable condition in a hospital Sunday as South Africans in churches around the country prayed for him.

There was no update on his condition from South Africa’s presidency by Sunday afternoon.

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Mandela, revered around the world for his role in winning democratic rights and freedoms for black South Africans, was admitted to a Pretoria hospital in the early hours of Saturday, suffering from a recurrence of a lung infection that struck in December.

TIMELINE: The life of Nelson Mandela

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Members of Mandela’s family, including his daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, visited him at the hospital Sunday. His wife, Graca Machel, was at his bedside.

Mandela, 94, has played no active role in politics for almost a decade and is not involved in decisions of the ruling African National Congress but remains a figure of vast symbolic importance to South Africans for his role in fighting apartheid and ushering in a period of peaceful economic growth after the advent of black majority rule.

Many South Africans praying for Mandela’s recovery Sunday were encouraged by news that he was breathing without the help of a respirator.

Official comments, however, have underscored the seriousness of this latest bout of pneumonia, given Mandela’s age and increasing frailty.

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Mandela contracted tuberculosis during his 27-year imprisonment under apartheid and in recent years has battled repeated lung infections.

The Sunday Times newspaper ran the headline, “It’s time to let him go,” on Sunday, citing an old friend, Andrew Mlangeni, 87, calling on the Mandela family to “release” Mandela and help the nation to do the same. Mlangeni served time in prison with Mandela, who is known affectionately in South Africa by his clan name, Madiba.

“We wish Madiba a speedy recovery, but I think what is important is that his family must release him. You [Mandela] have been coming to the hospital too many times. Quite clearly you are not well and there is a possibility you might not be well again.

“Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow. We will say thank you, God, you have given us this man, and we will release him too,” Mlangeni said.

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Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, wished Mandela a swift recovery and urged South Africans to keep him in their prayers.

“I also want to join many South Africans who are wishing our icon all the best and to recover from the illness,” he told journalists Sunday.

Environment Minister Edna Molewa also wished Mandela well.

“We are sending a message of a speedy recovery and we wish him well,” she said.

South Africans stopped by Mandela’s home in suburban Houghton, leaving messages of good will outside his house, including letters, paintings and small rocks brightly painted with get well wishes.

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