JOHANNESBURG - Former South African President Nelson Mandela is making "steady progress," according to a statement from the office of President Jacob Zuma.
Friday's statement came two days after Mandela, aged 94, was hospitalized with a lung infection. It said he was in good spirits and enjoyed a full breakfast Friday morning.
On Thursday, Zuma said that Mandela is doing "very well," adding in an interview with the BBC that South Africans "must not panic."
But Mandela has been plagued with frequent health problems over the past few years, prompting growing concerns for the frail anti-apartheid leader.
He was hospitalized in 2011 and 2012, including a nearly three-week stay in hospital in December with both gallstones and lung problems. Those problems date back to his 27-year-long imprisonment on Robben Island, where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis near the end of his prison time for opposing white minority rule.
While the country is hoping for the best, Johannesburg resident Zizi Dhlamini said South Africans fear losing a wise elder.
"It's sad for the country because it is always a nice thing to know that Dada is alive and he is there, even though he's ailing," said Dhlamini. "We always want to have them around for wisdom. We cherish their presence."
South Africans feel a familial connection to the country’s first black president, she said.
"Mandela is like a father to all of us, a grandfather to our children, a sister or a brother to our grandparents. So I mean he has been touching everyone's life," said Dhlamini. "Having him, I mean to say, is like we have a diamond. But he's ailing in health. So it's a sad period or season for South Africans, because we are so attached to him."
President Barack Obama, who met with African leaders Thursday, spoke with concern for the Nobel laureate.
"Well, obviously we’re all deeply concerned with Nelson Mandela’s health," said Obama. "He’s a hero I think to all of us. I’m sure that I speak for the other leaders here. And we will be keeping him in our thoughts and prayers, and his entire family. He is as strong physically as he’s been in character and in leadership over so many decades, and hopefully he will come out of this latest challenge."
Elsa Fogang, of Johannesburg, said Mandela is on her mind.
"It's more worrying than in the past because he's quite older now," Fogang said. "I think it's only natural, because he's been through a lot, going to prison… It's bad because he's like a symbol for this country and everybody looks up to him and all of that."
Fogang was off to a Good Friday service. And like many South Africans heading into the holy Christian weekend, she said she will be praying for Madiba.