, JOHANNESBURG, Jan 28 – South Africa\’s revered former president Nelson Mandela was on Thursday described as "very sick" but his condition was "not life threatening", a source close to the anti-apartheid icon told AFP.
The news that Madiba – the clan name by which the 92-year-old Nobel peace prize winner and country\’s first elected black leader is affectionately known – was to spend a second night in hospital has gripped the nation.
The public has grown increasingly concerned for Mandela\’s health but he could be released as early as Friday, the source said on condition of anonymity.
"The old man is very sick but his condition is not life threatening," the source said.
"He came in for a check-up but the doctor decided to keep him in for observation. He is still not well but we expect him to be released tomorrow."
No hospital or medical official contacted by AFP would confirm that Mandela would soon be discharged from Milpark hospital in Johannesburg where he was admitted on Wednesday.
President Jacob Zuma described the hospital visit as a check-up and called for calm but a report said Mandela had been treated for a lung problem.
"President Mandela goes to hospital for check-ups… this is one of those check-ups," said Zuma, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, having earlier urged the media "to afford him the dignity and respect that he is entitled to."
The Star newspaper reported that Mandela had been seen by a lung specialist at the private hospital.
"He has been admitted for investigation," the doctor, Michael Plit, told the newspaper, declining to comment further on Mandela\’s condition.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who described Mandela as frail after meeting him last week, said on Thursday that Madiba remained in "amazing" condition for his age, but did not comment specifically on his hospitalisation.
"What more do we want from him? We want him to remain forever, but you know… anything can happen," Tutu, a leading figure during the anti-apartheid struggle, said.
The ruling African National Congress party earlier urged people to refrain from speculation and the White House said that President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle\’s thoughts were with Mandela.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, established to continue his charitable work after he withdrew from public life in 2004, said Wednesday that Mandela was in Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg for tests but his life was not in jeopardy.
"He is in no danger and is in good spirits," said a statement from the foundation. It has made no further comment.
Mandela\’s wife, Graca Machel, arrived at the hospital around 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Thursday, around an hour after ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who separated from him in 1992, departed.
Machel\’s daughter Josina and Mandela\’s personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, also visited the hospital, as did Mandla Mandela, Madiba\’s grandson and chief of the traditional council in the family\’s home village of Mvezo.
Media flocked to the hospital where there was tight security with police checking all visitors\’ cars to make sure no journalists were hiding in the boot.
At a school next door children decorated a fence with colourful pictures of hands and hearts and messages of support.
"We hope you\’ll get well soon," said one.
"Madiba, we love you," said a sign in one of the school\’s windows.
Ntho Molena, a 16-year-old school pupil, said she and her colleagues were praying for Mandela to get well.
"We feel it is very important to offer our support to the former president of South Africa because he brought major changes to us the children.
"We are entering the great reward he fought for when he was in prison," she told AFP.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, emerging in 1990 to lead the transition to democracy.
As South Africa\’s first black president, he defied the threat of civil war to lead a process of reconciliation in a country long divided against itself.
His public appearances have become increasingly rare since his retirement, the last such outing being at the closing ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg in July.