JOHANNESBURG— South Africa's presidency says former leader Nelson Mandela underwent surgery Saturday to remove gallstones. The procedure comes a week after he was admitted to a Pretoria hospital and diagnosed with a lung infection. The surgery is likely to intensify concerns about the health of the anti-apartheid icon, who is 94 years old.
Nelson Mandela had an endoscopy Saturday morning to remove gallstones, a presidential spokesman said, and is recovering.
The surgery comes a week after Mandela was first admitted to a Pretoria hospital. Earlier this week, doctors diagnosed him with a recurrent lung infection and said he was responding to treatment.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said doctors decided to treat the lung infection before addressing the gallstones.
Like many South Africans, Maharaj referred to Mandela by his clan name, Madiba.
“This morning, 15 December, the former president underwent a procedure via endoscopy to have the gallstones removed,” Maharaj said. "The procedure was successful and Madiba is recovering.”
Maharaj would not say what kind of anesthesia Mandela was given for the procedure, and refused to speculate on when he might be able to leave the hospital. Maharaj also said he could not discuss the former president's state of mind, as he was not at his bedside.
Mandela was previously admitted to a Johannesburg hospital in January 2011 for an acute respiratory infection. This February, he was also admitted to a hospital for a long-standing stomach ailment.
Maharaj said those watching his case should be concerned, but not alarmed.
“Taking age and all (into account), all of us would be concerned, and we should take comfort that the specialists -- and we have a team of the top specialists in the country attending to him -- have assured us that the procedure went well and recovery is going well,” Maharaj said.
He continued to appeal for Mandela’s privacy.
Mandela has made increasingly few public appearances in the last few years. He retired from public life in 2004.
Mandela was South Africa’s first black president in 1994. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to bring an end to apartheid.