Mandela remains in critical condition; crowds gather

PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) -- Former South African President Nelson Mandela remained hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday, a government spokesman said.

As night fell, well-wishers outside the Pretoria hospital where Mandela lay chanted his name, hung signs of support on bulletin boards and left flowers.

"We wish him well. We are calling on the world to unite and pray for Madiba," said 24-year-old Innocentia Moselane, using Mandela's traditional clan name. "He is our icon, and we love him."

During his 27 years behind bars for fighting apartheid, Mandela became a rallying symbol for those fighting South Africa's white-minority rule at home and abroad. His release in 1990 was the beginning of the end of apartheid, the system of legalized racial segregation the South African government enforced for more than 45 years.

"He is our hero. He is my mentor, my father. He is everything to me," 36-year-old Kuda Nyahumzvi told CNN outside the hospital. "But when it is his time, we wish his soul could just rest. He spent so long in jail and struggling."

Among the balloons, posters and cards outside the hospital Tuesday were dozens of news crews and broadcast vans.

More than 40 vehicles crowded the parking spaces outside the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, the South African Press Association reported. Generators hummed and the area was brightly lit for the news organizations doing regular live broadcasts.

Government officials and several of Mandela's family members visited him in the hospital on Tuesday, the South African Press Association reported.

Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, spends every night at the hospital, where the former president has been since June 8 for a recurring lung infection. Previously, authorities had described his condition as serious but stable.

But over the weekend, his health took a turn for the worse, with the South African president's office saying he was in critical condition.

"The doctors are doing everything possible to ensure his well-being and comfort," President Jacob Zuma told the nation Monday.

When the country held its first multiracial elections in 1994, Mandela became the South Africa's first black president. He stepped down in 1999 after serving a single term.

Though he continued to be a voice on the world stage for developing nations, human rights and the fight against AIDS after leaving office, Mandela, 94, has been sidelined by advancing age and bouts of illness in recent years.

He last appeared in public in 2010.