CAPE TOWN: Nelson Mandela's wife has described how the former president's "sparkle" is gradually fading, as South African officials disclosed that he is suffering from a recurring lung infection.
The authorities added that Mr Mandela, 94, was "responding to treatment" in a military hospital in Pretoria where he has spent three nights.
Graca Machel, whom Mr Mandela married on his 80th birthday in 1998, told of her pain at having to watch her husband "ageing" before her eyes. "I mean, this spirit and this sparkle, you see that somehow it's fading," she said on Monday.
"To see him ageing, it's something also which pains you," she told an African television reporter. "You understand and you know it has to happen."
Ms Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique Samora Machel, is Mr Mandela's third wife. He divorced his second wife, Winnie, in 1992, while his first wife, Evelyn, died in 2004.
Ndileka Mandela, a granddaughter, said that Mr Mandela seemed to have accepted his condition. "I think he takes it in his stride, he has come to accept that it's part of growing old, and it's part of humanity as such," she said. "At some point you will be dependent on someone else – he has come to embrace it."
Security is tight at the military hospital in Pretoria where the government says Mr Mandela is "comfortable" and not in any immediate danger. But officials have declined to say when he might be released. His condition was considered sufficiently serious to fly him almost 1000 kilometres from his home village of Qunu to the capital on Saturday.
The authorities then waited until Tuesday before giving any solid information about his condition. Mr Mandela has been prone to lung infections ever since he caught tuberculosis as an inmate at Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town at the age of 70 in 1988.
He later described his good fortune that the disease was diagnosed and treated before it reached an advanced stage.
"I went to my friends in prison, Walter Sisulu and others, and told them that I was found to have the TB germ," he told an international Aids conference in 2004. "There were long faces drawn. My friends objected to me sharing my personal affairs. But I consoled them and told them that the doctors and hospital staff knew about my status and I therefore had no reason to hide this information from those close to me."
In January 2011, Mr Mandela spent two nights at Milpark private hospital in Johannesburg for what officials described as routine tests. It turned out that he was suffering from a serious respiratory infection.
Mr Mandela was last admitted to hospital in February for a minor surgical procedure to determine the cause of a long-standing abdominal complaint.
This spirit and this sparkle, you see that somehow it's fading.Nelson Mandela's wife, Graca Machel