Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mandela was showing signs of a “recurrence of a previous lung infection”.

While Mandela is said to be responding to treatment from doctors, the news has caused much distress in South Africa, where he is placed on the highest of pedestals as the man who inspired their hardfought democracy.

Despite being imprisoned for 27 years by the Apartheid government for leading the fight against minority white leaders, Mandela forgave those who opposed his views and urged his countrymates to work as one – he became President in 1994, the year after he won the

Mandela was flown by the military to hospital in South African capital on Saturday from his home in Qunu village in Eastern Cape.

He has most recently been admitted to hospital in February with abdominal pain and January 2011 with a chest infection.

During his incarceration in the 1980s, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Mandela rarely appears publicly since he bowed out of public life in 2004.

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