TODAY   |  June 09, 2013

Mandela breathing on own, fights lung infection

Former South African President Nelson Mandela remains hospitalized for a second day in "serious" condition as the nation prays for his swift recovery. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.

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>>> now, to south africa where former president nelson mandela remains in the hospital in serious but stable condition . keers simmons is in johannesburg to bring us the later. kir, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, lester. you can hear this country take a collective intake of breath each and every time nelson mandela is in the hospital. this time, as you say, in describing his condition, it's serious. that's the first time they've used -- the time they've used that term and his wife has cancelled a trip abroad in order to be by his bedside. nelson mandela remains hospitalized this morning, a day after he was rushed there by ambulance in the middle of the night .

>> the presidency has called on the nation to pray for him during his hospital stay.

>> reporter: he is suffering from a lung infection, a complaint that has repeatedly hospitalized him. many were shocked the last time we saw mandela, looking frail in this video, from a south african broadcasting corporation in april. now, he is said to be in a serious condition, though he is able to breathe on his own.

>> his condition deteriorated to the point where it was necessary to hospitalize him. he is in the hospital in victoria now. the doctors report that his condition is serious, but he is stable.

>> reporter: nelson mandela 's lungs have been weak since suffering tuberculosis while a political prisoner . his strength helped bring about the transformation of his country, ending the apartheid regime that separated blacks from whites. his nation worries, concerned for south africa . a man they affectionately called by his clan name , madiba. the president's office is attempting to reassure --

>> he is a fighter, and at his age, as long as he is fighting, he'll be fine.

>> reporter: nelson mandela fought for freedom and democracy, to end the oppression of his people. now, he faces a difficult fight.

>> this is the time where we need to hold hands and pray for the elderly statesman.

>> reporter: with so many around the world praying for him. nelson mandela was in the hospital for two weeks over christmas, and each time he's been in the hospital he recovered and returned home -- his home here in johannesburg. of course, nelson mandela himself would say the concentration on him as an individual is wrong, that many people led the struggle against apartheid and led this country out of the dark days. of course, he is so deeply loved here.

>> all right, kier simmons, thank you very much.