Former South African president Nelson Mandela was in a "serious but stable" condition today after being taken to hospital with a recurrence of a lung infection, the government said.
The 94-year-old, who became the first black leader of Africa's biggest economy in 1994 after historic all-race elections, has been in hospital three times since December. He has been battling the infection for a few days, the government said in a statement.
"This morning at about 1:30 a.m. (2330 GMT) his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to a Pretoria hospital. He remains in a serious but stable condition," it said.
The government's choice of words, in particular the use of "serious", was clear cause for concern to South Africa's 53 million people, for whom Mandela remains a potent symbol of the struggle against decades of white-minority rule.
"It's such painful news but I pray for him that he can get better and better and better as he is the best man in this country," said Pretoria resident Khodani Mulwena.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said he was optimistic about the health of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
"What I am told by doctors is that he is breathing on his own and I think that is a positive sign," he said. "Madiba is a fighter and at his age, as long as he is fighting he will be fine," Maharaj said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, accompanied him to the hospital, the South African Press Association reported. Machel had been scheduled to speak on Saturday at a conference on hunger in London but cancelled the engagement, SAPA reported.