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Mandela family descend on hospital where anti-apartheid leader being treated

Throughout Nelson Mandela's hospitalization visitors have come and gone, including Mandela's former wife, but reports suggest only those closest to him are actually at his side. The former president of South Africa has long been in failing health. NBC's Keir Simmons reports.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Nelson Mandela’s extended family were seen visiting the hospital he was being treated on Monday, days after he was rushed there with a lung infection. 

In the afternoon, former wife Winnie Mandela paid a visit to the hospital in Pretoria where South Africa’s first black president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate was being treated. He and Winnie, a fellow anti-apartheid campaigner, were married throughout his 27 years in prison when tuberculosis weakened his lungs. 

According to ITN News, NBC News' British partner, among the stream of relatives coming in and out of the hospital was one of his daughters, Zenani Dlamini, South African ambassador to Argentina. She has spent some of the day at his side, ITN reported.

According to local reports only those closest to Mandela were being allowed to be by his side, including his current wife Graca Michel. South Africa's The Star newspaper reported that the family barred government leaders and senior party officials from visiting Mandela in hospital.  

Even Deputy President Kgalema Motlande was prevented from visiting the democracy icon, the newspaper reported. 

But a statement from the African National Congress disputed the newspaper's story, saying, "We have spoken to the family about this report and they deny that they issued such an instruction or spoken to the media on barring the ANC and government from visiting.

Over the weekend Mandela’s condition was described "serious, but stable," which marked the first time the term "serious" had been used despite his numerous health scares. 

"President Jacob Zuma reiterates his call for South Africa to pray for Madiba [Mandela] and the family during this time,” the official government statement released on Monday said. Mandela is often affectionately referred to by his clan name Madiba. 

“There are restrictions which arise from the fact that Madiba is under intensive care. Those are medical restrictions to control movement of people (to exclude the) possibility of visitors bringing infection into the environment,” said presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj.

The former president, who has long been in failing health, turns 95 next month. Many were shocked by his frail appearance during a photo op in April.

A long-time comrade of Mandela’s, who was fellow inmate at the notorious Robben Island prison, was quoted Sunday as calling on family members to let him go.

“We wish Madiba a speedy recovery, but I think what is important is that his family must release him,” Andrew Mlangeni told the Sunday Times newspaper. “You (Mandela) have been coming to the hospital too many times. Quite clearly you are not well and there is a possibility you might not be well again.  

Mlangeni added: "The family must release him so that God may have his own way. They must release him spiritually and put their faith in the hands of God. Once the family releases him, the people of south Africa will follow.  We will say thank you, God, you have given us this man, and we will release him to you.”