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Themba Hadebe/AP/Press Association Images

South Africa prays for Madiba: former president still 'critical' in Pretoria hospital

The 94-year-old has been in hospital since 8 June.

FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN President Nelson Mandela remains in a critical condition in a Pretoria hospital today following confirmation that his condition worsened over the past 48 hours.

Current leader Jacob Zuma told reporters this morning that the team of doctors were doing all they could to treat the 94-year-old and keep him comfortable.

“I am not in a position to give further details,” he said.

It emerged yesterday that the anti-apartheid hero’s condition had become “critical” over the weekend. On visiting his predecessor in hospital, Zuma said:

All of us in the country should accept the fact that Madiba [Nelson Mandela's clan name] 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.

Fellow countrymen are fearing the worst as Mandela fights a recurring lung infection, a medical problem that has hospitalised him four times since December 2012.

Flowers, cards, balloons and messages of support were left outside the gate of his Pretoria hospital, where family members were gathered.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do but to pray for him and the doctors that are helping him,” said Phathani Mbath outside the hospital.

In Mthatha, a rural town in the region where Mandela grew up, there was also a sense of anxious resignation.

“It is not up to us to decide what happens now. There is nothing we can do,” said Aphiwe Ngesi a teacher in Mthatha. “All we can do is hope for the best.”

In Washington, the White House said its thoughts and prayers were with Mandela, as US President Barack Obama prepares to visit South Africa.

“We have seen the latest reports from the South African government that former president Mandela is in critical condition,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and the people of South Africa.”

Obama has plans to leave for a tour of Africa that will take him to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania on Wednesday. Zuma said the visit would go ahead.

The possibility of a meeting between the first black presidents of both South Africa and the United States has been hotly anticipated, but the White House has said it will defer to Mandela’s family.

It is 18 years to the day since Mandela wore a Spingbok jersey at Ellis Park to hand the Rugby World Cup to Francois Pienaar, creating a historic and unprecedented moment in South Africa’s race struggle. He is due to turn 95 on 18 July.

Young girls add their get-well message on a poster for former South African President Nelson Mandela, at the Education Expo in Johannesburg, South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

A print of Nelson Mandela and get-well messages hang outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Thabiso Boya, adds his get-well message. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

-Additional reporting by AFP

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