South Africans, and millions more people around the world, are waiting anxiously for further word about Nelson Mandela and praying for the former president and anti-apartheid icon.

Mandela, 94, remains in critical condition at a hospital in Pretoria where he's being treated for a recurring respiratory infection.

The word from South African President Jacob Zuma on Monday was that "doctors are doing everything possible to ensure his well being and comfort," South Africa's News 24 reports.

But as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Pretoria, Zuma's spokesman, Mac Maharaj, added that: "Let's hope that he's able to improve, but at the same time, let us appreciate that [Mandela's condition] is critical."

And the BBC writes that "a senior official said South Africans should not hold out 'false hopes.' " The news network's Karen Allen "reports from outside the Pretoria hospital that the mood in the country is somber, and reality is sinking in."

Mandela, as NPR's Jason Beaubien reminds us, was born in a country that viewed him as a second-class citizen. But from his childhood as a herd boy, Mandela went on to lead the African National Congress' struggle against the racially oppressive, apartheid regime of South Africa. For his efforts, he spent 27 years behind bars as a political prisoner, finally being released in 1990.

In 1993, Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk — the nation's last white leader. They were recognized for "their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit