People take photos of the giant statue of former president Nelson Mandela, in Mandela Square, Johannesburg, South Africa, Sunday Dec. 9, 2012. South Africans prayed Sunday for the health of former President Nelson Mandela and anxiously awaited further word about the anti-apartheid leader after he was admitted to a military hospital. President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela Sunday morning at the hospital in Pretoria and found the frail 94-year-old to be "comfortable and in good care," presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement. Maharaj offered no other details about Mandela, nor what medical tests he had undergone since entering the hospital Saturday. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela’s life is an open book. Volumes chronicle every aspect of his 94 years. However, all that changed earlier this month when he was hospitalized.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and his spokesman have released several brief statements saying essentially that Mandela “continues recovering,” and that there’s “no crisis.” The latest, issued Monday, said Mandela would spend Christmas Day in hospital, with Zuma asking “all freedom-loving people around the world to pray for him.”

All this has done little to quell the widespread fear in South Africa and around the world that the end of the life of “Madiba” — as the beloved elder statesman is affectionately known here – is near.

After more than two weeks of rumor, speculation and cryptic comments, very little is known for certain about how Mandela is really doing as he recovers from surgery to remove gallstones and treatment for a respiratory infection.

Country ‘a bit nervous’
It’s been his longest hospital stay since everything changed in South Africa, when Mandela was released from prison and apartheid ended some two decades ago.

“For a man of his age, Mandela is not doing badly,” Tokyo Sexwale, the government’s minister of human affairs, said in an interview in the garden outside his home.

Sexwale, who has known and worked closely with Mandela since the 1970s, is also a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, or “the center of his memory,” as Sexwale calls it.

He said the Foundation receives anywhere from 6,000 to 7,000 messages of prayer, support and concern every week for Mandela.

“I hope, Godspeed, he’ll still be with us for quite some time. The country feels a bit nervous, it’s like a family losing the father,” he added.

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