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Hope was shifting to resignation about Nelson Mandela’s frail health Monday as the anti-apartheid hero remained in hospital with a lung infection for a third day.

“We still love him so much, but it is difficult,” said Thembeni Sibeko, who works as a greeter at Regina Mundi, a Catholic church where opponents of the apartheid regime gathered. “It is so painful to see an old man (be in) pain every day.”

Officials described the 94-year-old’s condition as “serious, but stable” when he was brought to hospital on Saturday. That marked the first time the term “serious” had been used despite Mandela’s numerous health scares.

The tone of the conversation in South Africa has changed with Mandela’s frequent hospital visits forcing the subject of his eventual death into the public. For many years it was considered taboo to even discuss his mortality. Now people are speaking about it openly.

A long-time comrade of Mandela’s, who was fellow inmate on Robben Island, 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 [Madiba] 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.