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Mandela in critical condition, South Africa’s leader says

A man walked past a mural depicting former president Nelson Mandela.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A man walked past a mural depicting former president Nelson Mandela.

JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela’s health has deteriorated and he is now in critical condition, the South African government said Sunday.

The office of President Jacob Zuma said in a statement that Zuma had visited the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader at a hospital Sunday evening and was informed by the medical team that Mandela’s condition had become critical in the past 24 hours.

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‘‘The doctors are doing everything possible to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that Madiba is well-looked after and is comfortable. He is in good hands,’’ Zuma said in the statement, using Mandela’s clan name.

Zuma also met Graca Machel, Mandela’s wife, at the hospital in Pretoria and discussed the former leader’s condition, according to the statement.

Zuma was accompanied on the visit by Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president of the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress.

Mandela was jailed for 27 years under white racist rule and released in 1990. He then played a leading role in steering the divided country from the apartheid era to democracy, becoming South Africa’s first black president in all-race elections in 1994. He was hospitalized June 8 for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.

Zuma discussed the government’s acknowledgement a day earlier that an ambulance carrying Mandela to the hospital two weeks ago had engine trouble, requiring the former president to be transferred to another ambulance for his trip to the hospital. ‘‘There were seven doctors in the convoy who were in full control of the situation throughout the period,” Zuma said.

Mandela is seen by many around the world as a symbol of reconciliation, and Zuma appealed to South Africans and the international community to pray for the ailing former president, his family, and the medical team attending to him.

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