South Africa's president has asked his country to pray for the critically ill national hero Nelson Mandela, who he said was "asleep" when he visited him at a hospital in the capital Pretoria.
Jacob Zuma said on Monday that doctors at the Pretoria Mediclinic Heart Hospital were doing everything possible to help Mandela feel comfortable on his 17th day in hospital.
However, he refused to give details of Mandela's condition, saying: "I'm not a doctor''.
The media briefing came a day after the South African government said the former president's condition had deteriorated and was now "critical".
Zuma said South Africans should accept that Mandela is old, and he urged people to pray for their former leader.
"Madiba is critical in the hospital, and this is the father of democracy. This is the man who fought and sacrificed his life to stay in prison, the longest-serving prisoner in South Africa,'' Zuma said, using Mandela's clan name.
Mac Maharaj, presidential spokesman, said an arrangement had been reached for information about Mandela to be provided through a "single source in an authoritative way ... to respect the privacy of the family".
He said also that the "doctor-patient confidentiality'' had to be adhered to.
Al Jazeera's Peter Greste, reporting from Pretoria, said the limited news about the man known as the "father of the nation", was causing some anxiety and frustration among South Africans who are keen to know how he is doing.
|The health of former South African president Nelson Mandela has worsened.
He said the shift in the language to statements that medical staff were keeping Mandela comfortable, suggested that Zuma's office was preparing the country for the possibility that Mandela might not be around for much longer.
"We've also seen lots of people coming to the hospital, and pasting messages of suppot on the walls outside the hospital," our correspondent said.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mandela's ex-wife, and daughters Zindzi Mandela-Motlhajwa and Zenani Mandela-Dlamini were seen leaving the hospital on Monday, while Mandela's eldest daughter Makaziwe rebuked the media, after saying that her father was at "peace".
"He has given so much to the world ... Whether these are the last moments with us, to be with our dad, or there is still a longer [time], but they [media] must back off," she told CNN.
"It's our dad," she said. "It's the children's grandfather. We've never had him in our life for better part of our years. This is in a sense quality and sacred time for us, and I would expect the world to really back off and leave us alone."
Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president after the end of apartheid in 1994, was hospitalised for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.
This is his fourth hospitalisation since December.
Mandela was jailed for 27 years under white racist rule and was released 23 years ago, in 1990. He then played a leading role in steering the divided country from the apartheid era to an all-race democracy.
As a result of his sacrifice and peace-making efforts, he is seen by many around the world as a symbol of reconciliation.
In his media briefing on Monday, Zuma said US President Barack Obama would go ahead with a visit to South Africa, despite concerns about Mandela's health.
"President Obama is visiting South Africa,'' Zuma said. "I don't think you stop a visit because somebody's sick.''
Obama, who arrives in Africa this week, is due to visit Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies