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Mandela battles infection in hospital for fifth day

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Messages for Nelson Mandela are pictured outside of his Johannesburg home on June 9, 2013.  By Alexander Joe (AFP/File)

Messages for Nelson Mandela are pictured outside of his Johannesburg home on June 9, 2013. By Alexander Joe (AFP/File)

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Nelson Mandela remained under intensive care at a Pretoria hospital for a fifth day Wednesday battling a potentially deadly lung infection.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told AFP there was no change in the condition of the anti-apartheid icon who was admitted to hospital last Saturday and has since been listed in serious but stable condition.

His eldest daughter Zenani, who is South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina, was seen Wednesday entering the heavily guarded clinic where only close family members are being allowed.

Zenani as well as the elder statesman’s two other daughters, Makaziwe and Zindzi, and his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, have visited him daily this week as have other family members.

His current wife, Graca Machel, called off a trip to London last week to be with her ailing husband.

On Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma said doctors had briefed him on Mandela’s condition and he was hopeful the 94-year-old would pull through his latest health scare.

“We are all feeling it, that our president, the real father of democracy in South Africa, is in the hospital,” Zuma said in a televised address.

“We need him to be with us,” he said. “I’m sure, knowing him as I do, he’s a good fighter and he’ll be with us very soon.”

That sentiment was shared outside Mandela’s Johannesburg home, where a class of five-year-olds delivered get-well cards for a man who will go down in history as one of the greatest figures of the 20th century.

“We love you” read one of the cards. “Get well soon Madiba” read another, using Mandela’s clan name.

A mother and her 16-year-old daughter also passed by the house to leave flowers.

“We want to acknowledge what he’s done for this country,” said the mother Pippa Allan. “It was an incredible sacrifice for him and his family and he’s left us a legacy that we really hope to nourish and encourage in this country.”

Wednesday is laced with meaning for South Africans as it marks the day 49 years ago that Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid government.

He spent 27 years in prison during white racist rule and was freed in 1990 before becoming South Africa’s first black president four years later.

His latest health scare has been met with a growing acceptance that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate may be nearing the end of his life.

In Mthatha, a town near Mandela’s home village of Qunu, Robert Slabbert said his death will be a “big loss for South Africa and the world.”

“He’s changed the whole country so he’s going to be really missed,” he added.

Mandela’s age and his previous medical problems have only added to the sense of fatalism.

Mandela has a long history of lung problems since being diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988, while in prison on wind-swept Robben Island, near Cape Town. This is his fourth hospital stay since December.

Two months ago he was discharged after treatment for pneumonia.

In December he underwent surgery to remove gallstones as he recovered from a lung infection. Then in March he was admitted for a scheduled overnight check-up before returning to hospital later that month for 10 days.

The last images of him to be released publicly showed an unsmiling Mandela looking exceedingly frail at his Johannesburg home.

He was flanked by a smiling Zuma and other party officials, prompting allegations that the embattled party was exploiting Mandela for political gain.

The ANC, facing 2014 elections, has lost much of its Mandela shine amid widespread corruption, poverty and poor public services.

Mandela has not been seen in public since the World Cup final in South Africa in July 2010, and has not been politically active for years.

After serving just one term as president, he turned his energy to the battle against AIDS and to conflict resolution, before stepping out of the public eye at age 85.

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