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Mandela's mortality hard to face

JOHANNESBURG — The desk is spotless and books neatly line the shelves in Nelson Mandela's office at a Johannesburg-based foundation that carries his name, but the former South African president and anti-apartheid leader hasn't worked there for years.

The meticulously preserved room is one of many tributes to the legacy of a former prisoner who became so revered for his efforts to reconcile a racially divided nation that many South Africans cannot bring themselves to speak openly about the possibility of his death. That reluctance is gradually eroding as the 94-year-old receives treatment for a recurring lung infection, spending a fourth day in a Pretoria hospital on Tuesday.

President Jacob Zuma called Mandela's condition "very serious" but said he has stabilized, in an interview with state broadcaster SABC.

Prayers are pouring in for Mandela, adding to a mood of urgency about his deteriorating health that has been compounded by a series of hospital stays in recent months. The description of Mandela as "ravaged by time," in a statement from a foundation led by retired archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, speaks to the fragile state of a man who is so mighty in stature.

Concerns about his health already had been heightened in recent weeks after a video broadcast on state television in April showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Zuma tried to hold his hand.

"He was a very fruitful fighter, but he's only human," said Thabiso Masemola, a 21-year-old student. "He's reached a point in life where he needs to rest. Let him go, let him be. He's finished his purpose in life."