Nelson Mandela is in serious but stable condition after he was hospitalized early this morning for a recurring lung condition.

Mandela has long suffered from lung problems after contracting tuberculosis during the 27 years he spent as a prisoner of apartheid, but the New York Times is reporting that this time the issue may be more serious. It is the fourth time this year that the former South African president has been hospitalized, and the African National Party is reportedly telling the press that the party is prepared for the worst.

Mandela's public appearances have grown increasingly rare, and his last publicized outing was during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In May, the South African government drew criticism for releasing photographs of a frail-looking 94-year-old Mandela during a visit with South African president Jacob Zuma.

Mandela was South Africa's first black president and served from 1994-1999. He earned a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his leadership.

[NYT, photo via AP]