'Madiba is a fighter': South Africa prays as ailing Nelson Mandela spends 2nd day in hospital
Slideshow: Nelson Mandela: A revolutionary's lifeBy Keir Simmons and F. Brinley Bruton, NBC News
/View images of civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, who went from anti-apartheid activist to prisoner to South Africa's first black president.
JOHANNESBURG -- South Africa and millions around the world on Sunday waited for news of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela after he was rushed to the hospital with a lung infection on Saturday.
Officials described the 94-year-old's health as "serious," the first time the term has been used despite numerous health scares.
"His condition deteriorated to the point where it was found necessary to hospitalize him," said Mac Maharaj, South African presidential spokesman, on Saturday. "He is in a hospital in Pretoria now."
Many around the world were shocked by pictures of Mandela – affectionately known by his clan name Madiba – looking frail with current South African president Jacob Zuma in April.
Mandela's lungs have been weak since suffering tuberculosis while a political prisoner for 27 years under the apartheid regime. After he was released in 1990, he took his fight for racial equality right to the presidency, toppling the minority white leadership and becoming South Africa's first black president.
That he was able to help navigate the country through the time of monumental change without sparking a bloodbath as many predicted won him the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and made him a hero around the world.
Officials tried to reassure the public in the wake of the latest hospitalization.
"The truth of the matter is a simple one. Madiba is a fighter and at his age, as long as he is fighting, he'll be fine," Maharaj said.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela remains hospitalized for a second day in "serious" condition as the nation prays for his swift recovery. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.
Nevertheless, South Africans worried and waited.
A news anchor on South African broadcaster ENCA told viewers on Saturday: "The Presidency has called on the people to pray for Madiba during his hospital stay."
And pray they did, with people gathering to pray in churches and parks.
"I'm praying, because he's a hero. I want him to be alive," said Sharon Dube in a Johannesburg park along with other well-wishers.
Others were quick to acknowledge the reality of his age and ailing health, and wished the father of modern South Africa well.
"We're praying for him. But we can't do anything. If the time comes, we wish for him a good way to go," said Noel Ngwenya.
It was not known what hospital he was being treated at, although officials and the family did say he was in Pretoria, one of the country’s three capital cities.
Indeed, journalists saw a group of people believed to be family members entering Medi-clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria on Sunday.
Mandela's daughter, Makaziwe Mandela was also seen driving out of the hospital with his granddaughter, Ndileka Mandela.
In the past, Mandela’s family and the office of the presidency have gone to great lengths to keep secret the location of where he is being treated.
'Madiba is a fighter': South Africa prays as ailing Nelson Mandela spends 2nd day in hospital - World News