South Africans were expecting the worst on Monday with President Zuma telling them that former president Nelson Mandela remained in hospital in a critical condition.
President Jacob Zuma told reporters the doctors were doing everything possible to ensure his well-being and comfort, adding that this was a "difficult time."
Zuma and African National Congress deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa visited Mandela in hospital on Sunday night, upon learning that his condition had changed for the worse.
"It was late when we got to hospital and he was already asleep. We were there, looked at him, saw him. We then had a bit of discussion with doctors and his wife, Graca Machel, and we left. I am not in a position to give further details. I'm not a doctor," said Zuma.
Father of democracy
The president declined to comment on whether the liberation hero was on life-support. "This is the father of democracy, this is the man who fought and sacrificed his life, to stay in prison. He is the man we all love," said Zuma.
But he also prepared his fellow South Africans for the worst, especially given that Mandela has been hospitalized multiple times in recent months.
"All of us in the country should accept that Madiba is now old," said Zuma, using Mandela's clan name." He added that as he ages, his health will begin to trouble him.
"What we need to do as a country is to pray for him, pray for him to be well. We can ensure that doctors do their work, so that he can come out of hospital. That is what we can do for Madiba as a country. That would be honoring Madiba and his life," he said.
Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994, ending almost 50 years of apartheid rule. He is due to celebrate his 95th birthday on July 18.
"I think he is at peace with himself"
DW correspondent Subry Govender says hundreds of people have placed flowers outside the hospital in Pretoria and outside his home in Johannesburg. "People are praying for him at religious institutions and places of work," he said.
The ex-president's daughter Makiziwe Mandela said she believed he was at peace. "I think he is at peace with himself. He has given so much."
Mandela has been in Pretoria hospital since June 8, when he was admitted for a recurring lung infection.
Obama visit to go ahead
President Zuma also confirmed media reports that the ambulance carrying the former president broke down between Johannesburg and Pretoria while en route to the hospital on July 8. He added that several doctors were with Mandela at the time and "his health was not compromised."
Zuma added that a planned visit by US President Barack Obama later this week would not be rescheduled because of concerns about Mandela's health.
"President Obama is visiting South Africa. I would imagine that if there was such a visit and somebody fell sick, I don't think you stop a visit because someone is sick," said Zuma, adding that "nothing will stop the visit."