JOHANNESBURG - Nelson Mandela's health has deteriorated and he is now in critical condition, the South African government said Sunday.
The office of President Jacob Zuma said in a statement that he had visited the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader at a hospital Sunday evening and was informed by the medical team that Mandela's condition had become critical in the past 24 hours.
"The doctors are doing everything possible to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that Madiba is well-looked after and is comfortable. He is in good hands," Zuma said in the statement, using Mandela's clan name.
Zuma also met Graca Machel, Mandela's wife, at the hospital in Pretoria and discussed the former leader's condition, according to the statement. Zuma was accompanied on the visit by Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president of the country's ruling party, the African National Congress.
Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president after the end of apartheid in 1994, was hospitalized on June 8 for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.
In the statement, Zuma also discussed the government's acknowledgement a day earlier that an ambulance carrying Mandela to the hospital two weeks ago had engine trouble, requiring the former president to be transferred to another ambulance for his journey to the hospital.
"There were seven doctors in the convoy who were in full control of the situation throughout the period. He had expert medical care," Zuma said. "The fully equipped military ICU ambulance had a full complement of specialist medical staff including intensive care specialists and ICU nurses. The doctors also dismissed the media reports that Madiba suffered cardiac arrest. There is no truth at all in that report."
Zuma appealed to South Africans and the rest of the world to pray for Mandela, his family and the medical team that is attending to him.
On April 29, state television broadcast footage of a visit by Zuma and other leaders of the African National Congress to Mandela's home. Zuma said at the time that Mandela was in good shape, but the footage -- the first public images of Mandela in nearly a year -- showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Zuma tried to hold his hand.
Mandela was jailed for 27 years under white racist rule and was released in 1990. He then played a leading role in steering the divided country from the apartheid era to democracy, becoming South Africa's first black president in all-race elections in 1994.
As a result of his sacrifice and peacemaking efforts, he is seen by many around the world as a symbol of reconciliation.