JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's elder statesman, Nelson Mandela, will spend Christmas in the hospital, with authorities announcing that doctors have no plans to discharge the former president.
Mandela, 94, South Africa's first black president, has been hospitalized since Dec. 8, his longest stay since he was released from prison in 1993. He originally was hospitalized for a lung infection but also has had surgery for gallstones.
Authorities have offered scant day-to-day information about Mandela's illness. President Jacob Zuma issued a brief statement Monday that Mandela was responding to treatment. No date has been given on when he might be discharged.
The government originally misled the South African population about which hospital Mandela was in, as well as his condition.
It wasn't until nearly two weeks later after Mandela was flown to a hospital in Pretoria from his home in the Eastern Cape province that Zuma acknowledged that his condition was serious. Earlier, government ministers indicated that Mandela was in a military hospital in Pretoria, but it turned out he was in a private hospital.
In a statement Monday, Zuma called on South Africans and people around the world to pray for Mandela.
"Knowledge of the love and support of his people keeps him strong. Therefore, we urge all South Africans to keep Tata (Mandela) uppermost in their thoughts at every place of worship or entertainment tomorrow on Christmas Day, and throughout the festive season.
"We also humbly invite all freedom-loving people around the world to pray for him. He is an ardent fighter and will recover from this episode with all our support," Zuma said. He also told Mandela's family members to be strong and promised them the support of government and all the people of South Africa.
Mandela plays no role in day-to-day South African politics but is of immense emotional significance to the country as the architect of the reconciliation policy that followed decades of toxic racial segregation under apartheid.
Mandela has had a history of lung problems since contracting tuberculosis in his 27-year prison term.
The former president has been ill several times in recent years, often sparking wild rumors that he had died.
South Africans continue to send messages wishing for Mandela's recovery, usually affectionately referring to him by his clan name, Madiba. Trade union boss Zwelinzima Vavi tweeted Monday that he was playing a song dedicated to Mandela by South African gospel singer Solly Moholo.
"We are with him all the way as he spends festive season in hospital," Vavi said.