South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has cancelled a trip to Mozambique on Thursday after visiting former leader Nelson Mandela, 94, who remains critically ill in a Pretoria hospital.
Jacob Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj said his condition had deteriorated “in the past 48 hours”.
South Africa’s first black president has been in hospital since June 8 with a recurring lung infection.
Doctors were doing everything to ensure his well-being, a statement said.
Emotional crowds continue to gather outside the hospital, adding messages of support for Nelson Mandela.
Correspondents say South Africans now seem resigned to the prospect of his death.
“We are all going to feel bad when he passes [away], but at the same time we will be celebrating his life. He has done so many great things for this country,” said 25-year-old John Ndlovu, quoted by Reuters news agency.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has cancelled a trip to Mozambique on Thursday after visiting former leader Nelson Mandela
Jacob Zuma was due to attend a regional summit in the Mozambican capital Maputo on Thursday, but decided to cancel his trip.
The statement from his office said he “reiterated his gratitude on behalf of government, to all South Africans who continue to support the Madiba family”.
President Jacob Zuma’s decision to cancel the visit to Mozambique where he was to attend a regional infrastructure investment conference will only reinforce the impression that Nelson Mandela’s life is slipping away.
But later Jacob Zuma’s office warned against speculation about Nelson Mandela’s health, saying that announcements about his condition would come from the president himself or Mac Maharaj.
Mac Maharaj criticized some media outlets for broadcasting unverified information, as rumors spread on social media sites.
Nelson Mandela, known by his clan name Madiba, is revered for leading the fight against white minority rule in South Africa and then preaching reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was elected president the following year. He left office in 1999 after a single term.
Nelson Mandela retired from public life in 2004 and has rarely been seen at official events since.
He has a long history of lung problems, and was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the 1980s while he was a prisoner on Robben Island.
After his release, Nelson Mandela said that the tuberculosis was probably caused by dampness in his prison cell.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela has been admitted to hospital with a lung infection.
Nelson Mandela, 94, is in a “serious but stable condition”, a spokesman for the current president, Jacob Zuma, says.
He has been ill for some days but deteriorated overnight and was transferred to a hospital in Pretoria.
Nelson Mandela led the fight against apartheid, became South Africa’s first black president, and is widely regarded as father of the nation.
He has recently suffered a series of health problems and this is his fifth visit to hospital in two years.
In April Nelson Mandela was released from hospital after a 10-day stay caused by pneumonia.
His illness was described on Saturday as a recurrence of a lung infection, which has troubled him repeatedly.
Nelson Mandela was taken to hospital, from his home in a suburb of Johannesburg, at about 01:30 local time.
Mac Maharaj, South Africa’s presidential spokesman, said he was receiving expert medical care.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela has been admitted to hospital with a lung infection
Doctors were doing everything possible to make him comfortable and better, he added.
Mac Maharaj said at least one close member of Nelson Mandela’s family was with him in hospital.
“Naturally the immediate members of the family have access to him and it’s always good for the patient that he has been accompanied by one or other of them, and that has happened,” he said.
“President Jacob Zuma, on behalf of government and the nation, wishes Madiba a speedy recovery and requests the media and the public to respect the privacy of Madiba and his family,” Mac Maharaj said in a statement, using the clan name by which Nelson Mandela is often known.
Nelson Mandela served as president from 1994 to 1999.
He was previously imprisoned for 27 years, and is believed to have suffered damaged lungs while working in a prison quarry.
He contracted tuberculosis in the 1980s while being held in jail on the windswept Robben Island.
Nelson Mandela retired from public life in 2004 and has been rarely seen in public since.
There was a row in April when South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) – Nelson Mandela’s party – filmed a visit to see him and broadcast the pictures of him with President Jacob Zuma and other party figures.
Critics called it an invasion of his privacy.
Nelson Mandela awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 jointly with former President FW de Klerk for ending apartheid and bringing democracy to South Africa.
The South African government has sought to clarify remarks by President Jacob Zuma that angered dog lovers. The president was quoted as saying at a rally on Wednesday that having pet dogs was part of white – not African – culture.
But presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Jacob Zuma was simply warning against loving animals more than humans beings.
Mac Maharaj said Jacob Zuma’s main message was the need to “decolonize the African mind” in South Africa, where white-minority rule ended in 1994.
South Africa’s Mercury newspaper reports that Jacob Zuma told thousands of supporters at a rally in KwaZulu-Natal province that people who spent money on buying a dog, taking it to the vet and for walks belonged to white culture.
There was also a new generation of young Africans who were trying to adopt the lifestyles of other race groups, Jacob Zuma said.
“Even if you apply any kind of lotion and straighten your hair you will never be white,” the president was quoted as saying.
His comments sparked an angry response on social media, with some pet-lovers accusing him of indifference to animals, while others accused him of racism.
President Jacob Zuma was quoted as saying at a rally on Wednesday that having pet dogs was part of white, not African, culture
In a statement aimed at diffusing the row, Mac Maharaj said the president’s remarks were aimed at ensuring that black people did not behave in a way that was detrimental to creating a “caring African society” in South Africa.
“More than that, the essential message from the president was the need to decolonize the African mind, post-liberation, to enable the previously oppressed African majority to appreciate and love who they are and uphold their own culture,” he said.
“They should not feel pressured to be assimilated into the minority cultures.”
Mac Maharaj said there were still some South Africans who “sit with their dogs in front in a van or truck with a worker at the back in pouring rain or extremely cold weather”.
Some people also do not “hesitate to rush their dogs to veterinary surgeons for medical care when they are sick while they ignore workers or relatives who are also sick in the same households”, Mac Maharaj said.
“This is not to say that animals should not be loved or cared for,” he added.
“The message [of Jacob Zuma] merely emphasized the need not to elevate our love for our animals above our love for other human beings.”
South Africa remains racially polarized more than 18 years after apartheid ended.
It is also one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a huge gap in income levels.
Correspondents say this not the first time Jacob Zuma has drawn controversy.
Some of his previous remarks have angered feminists, gay people and black intellectuals.
But his support within the governing African National Congress (ANC), which took power when apartheid ended, remains solid, correspondents say.
Earlier this month, he was re-elected ANC leader, beating off a challenge by his rival, Kgalema Motlanthe.
Jacob Zuma is now almost certain to lead the ANC into the 2014 national election.