Nelson Mandela latest: Former South African President 'responding to treatment' after returning to hospital with lung infection

Zuma calls on public  ‘not to panic’ as former South African president, 94, is taken to hospital

Former South African President Nelson Mandela was tonight said to be responding positively to treatment after being hospitalised with a lung infection for the third time in two years. The former South African president, who is 94 years old, was taken in soon after midnight on Wednesday.

Jacob Zuma, Mr Mandela’s successor as both President and leader of the ANC, told the BBC that Mr Mandela was doing very well and called on his people “not to panic”. “Madiba [Mr Mandela’s clan name] is no longer that young,” Mr Zuma said. “If he goes for check-ups every now and again, I don’t think people must be alarmed about it.”

Concern for Mr Mandela was palpable on the streets of Johannesburg, but people seem to have heeded Mr Zuma’s advice. “He’s getting old, and quite naturally, he’s going to pass away,” said 21-year-old student Maleho Makgothi. “He’s done his bit for the country. He’s done his service, he looks a bit frail now, people should let him be.”

“I think that people are really getting scared,” fellow student Aryna de Klerk said. “Each time he’s hospitalised it gets more serious. A lung infection isn’t something you recover from quickly, and people are realising he’s soon going to be gone.”

Mr Mandela – who contracted tuberculosis in the 1980s during his incarceration on Robben Island – has been hospitalised with increasing frequency in recent years. He suffered his first lung infection in January 2011, while last Christmas he underwent treatment in Pretoria for 18 days over Christmas after yet another infection. He also had gallstones removed.

Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for Mr Zuma, said earlier in the day: “We appeal to the people of South Africa and the world to pray for our beloved Madiba and his family and to keep them in their thoughts. We have full confidence in the medical team and know that they will do everything possible to ensure recovery.

His doctors were “ensuring that he has the best possible expert medical treatment and comfort”, he added.

“I will pray for him tonight,” said Ephraim Chauke, a security guard, in Johannesburg. “I’m worried about him. He’s sick. And he did a lot for this country. Things might change – people might change – after he is gone.”

Mr Mandela served as South Africa’s first black president from 1994 to 1999, after spending 27 years in prison for defying the Apartheid regime.

He has not been seen in public since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In the photographs and footage released annually on his birthday, Mr Mandela has always appeared to be in good spirits – but increasingly, as each year passes, frail.

The government refused to divulge the medical facility where Mr Mandela is being attended to, for fear of causing further anxiety.