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Mandela spends time with family, 'no signficant change'

Nelson Mandela is pictured in Sandton, north of Johannesburg, on June 17, 2010
Former South African President Nelson Mandela is pictured in Sandton, north of Johannesburg, on June 17, 2010. Mandela visited with family members Monday at his hospital bedside, the South African government said, adding that there was no significant chan

Nelson Mandela visited with family members Monday at his hospital bedside, the South African government said, adding that there was no significant change in the condition of the frail anti-apartheid hero.

The 94-year-old former president and Nobel peace laureate has been in hospital since late Wednesday being treated for a recurrent bout of pneumonia.

"He spent part of Family Day today with some members of his family," the presidency said in a statement in its first update on Mandela's health on Monday.

"There is no significant change in his condition" since the previous presidency statement late Sunday said doctors had reported "a further improvement in his condition".

Doctors last week drained excess fluid that had built up on the lining of the anti-apartheid icon's lungs because of infection.

The procedure, described as the tapping of a pleural effusion, has helped him breathe without difficulty, it said.

South Africa's revered first black president was admitted to an undisclosed hospital shortly before midnight Wednesday for his third hospitalisation in four months. It remains unclear how long he may stay.

In December last year, he was in hospital for 18 days for treatment for a lung infection and gallstones surgery, his longest admission since he walked free from jail in 1990.

He was diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988 during his 27-year jail term and has long had problems with his lungs. He has also had treatment for prostate cancer and has suffered stomach ailments.

Mandela's latest health troubles have led to an outpouring of prayers and good wishes from around the world, including from US President Barack Obama.

South African President Jacob Zuma's office said Mandela's family "appreciate the support they have been receiving from the public".

On Sunday, South African well-wishers wrote messages of support on brightly coloured stones dotting garden plants outside Mandela's home in Johannesburg's Houghton suburb. One read "Get Well We Love You."

But Mandela's illness has also caused many South Africans to begin to come to terms with the mortality of the father of the "rainbow nation".

Instead of being concerned about his illness, "we should rather celebrate what he stood for, and what he continues to stand for, that he has been an icon of peace, an icon of service," Catholic priest Father Sebastian Rossouw told worshippers in the Soweto township on Sunday.

At home and abroad, Mandela is idolised as the architect of South Africa's peaceful transition from white-ruled police state to hope-filled democracy, a unifying symbol in a country still riven by racial tensions and deep inequality.

After leading his African National Congress to victory in the first multi-racial elections in 1994, Mandela served a single five-year term as president before taking up a new role as a roving elder statesman and leading campaigner against AIDS.

He retired from public life in 2004 and has not appeared in public since July 2010, when he was at the Soccer City stadium in Soweto for the World Cup final.

It is the second time that Mandela has been hospitalised in less than a month, after spending a night for check-ups on March 9.

Pleural effusion is the accumulation of water between the lining covering the lung and that of the chest wall, and is one of the complications of pneumonia, experts say.

Pneumonia normally takes one to three weeks to treat, but in elderly patients it can stretch to twice that time, according to South African pulmonologist David Pansegrouw.

While it is easy to treat, he warns, "You can't take it too lightly, especially with somebody of his age."

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