Mandela Nelson  London Sch of Econ Poli Sci 2
Nelson Mandela in 2000. Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science

Nelson Mandela has been in critical condition for nearly three weeks, and the South African hero is now life support, an official told CNN. The anti-apartheid icon was hospitalized for a lung infection.

South Africans stood outside his hospital bed in Pretoria with lit candles as they honored the anti-apartheid icon, a leader who is regarded as the founding father of the nation’s multiracial democracy. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years after fighting against the country’s white minority rule. Four years after he was freed in 1994, he became the first black president of South Africa.

"We need you!," one sign outside the hospital read, according to CNN. "We love you tata, get well soon!" said another, calling Mandella “Xhosa,” the word for father. Another person left a stone with the inscription, "Sending you light and love."

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

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba recently visited Mandela and his family at the hospital, where he read a special prayer for the critically ill hero. "Fill them with your holy courage and the gift of trusting faith, and take away their fears so that they may dare to face their grief," he said, according to his website.

"And uphold all of us with your steadfast love so that we may be filled with gratitude for all the good that he has done for us and for our nation, and may honor his legacy through our lives."

President Obama was supposed to visit Mandela on his trip to South Africa, but due to Mandela's condition, the 94-year-old will not be able to meet with the first black president of the United States.