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December 08, 2012

South Africa's Nelson Mandela Hospitalized

by Anita Powell

Government officials in South Africa say former President Nelson Mandela has been admitted to a Pretoria hospital for routine tests.  Mandela, aged 94, went to the hospital Saturday in what is his second hospitalization this year.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said the former president is undergoing routine tests at a military hospital in Pretoria, the capital, just north of Johannesburg.  Like many South Africans, Maharaj referred to the anti-apartheid icon by his clan name, Madiba.

“President Zuma assures all that Madiba is doing well and there is no need for alarm.  We have previously said, and we repeat, that he will be receiving medical attention from time to time which is consistent with his age,” he said.

Maharaj gave few details, citing patient confidentiality.  The spokesman would not say whether Mr. Mandela was taken to the hospital by helicopter or what medical tests he was undergoing.

The military has largely taken over responsibility for the former president's medical treatment.  Maharaj said the hospital was chosen because it has all the facilities  Mandela needs and where his privacy is secure.

It would be an understatement to say Mandela is beloved in South Africa.  He is, after all, the nation’s first black president and a living symbol of the decades-long struggle to end apartheid.  On his July 18 birthday, millions of schoolchildren sing “Happy Birthday Tata” in his honor.  During his last hospitalization in February, congregants packed Soweto’s famous Regina Mundi church to pray for his health. They did the same when he was hospitalized in January 2011 for a respiratory infection.

Maharaj says that outpouring of adoration has forced officials to be tight-lipped.

“We know it’s not just a question of the media, thousands of people adore him, and if they heard he was on a particular road or a particular place, they would rush there, even though they know he can’t see them.  And that inadvertently could cause disruptions to his smooth movement.  And that’s why we don’t disclose.”

In a statement, President Jacob Zuma wished the former leader well and asked the media to respect the privacy of Mandela and his family.

Mandela served 27 years in prison for his opposition to the apartheid system, going on to become South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

His last memorable public appearance was a brief tour of the soccer pitch ahead of the closing match of the 2010 World Cup.  Riding on a golf cart with his wife beside him, his smile and his wave brought 85,000 people to their feet in a roar of applause and cheering.