JOHANNESBURG — Government officials in South Africa say former president Nelson Mandela remains in a Pretoria hospital after being admitted Saturday for routine tests. This overnight stay has heightened fears about the aging icon’s health.
A statement by South African President Jacob Zuma says he visited Mandela in the hospital Sunday and found him "comfortable, and in good care."
The anti-apartheid icon was admitted to the Pretoria military hospital on Saturday, his second hospitalization this year.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said he accompanied Zuma on the visit to Pretoria, just north of Johannesburg, and found Mandela in good spirits. Like many South Africans, Maharaj referred to Mandela by his clan name, Madiba.
Maharaj spoke to VOA shortly after his arrival in the southeastern coastal city of Durban.
"We are assuring the public that Madiba is doing well, he is looking very rested. I accompanied President Zuma, the two talked, they greeted each other, they were warm, and Madiba is looking very rested," he said.
Maharaj refused to give any details on Mandela’s condition, citing patient confidentiality. He refused to say whether Mandela might spend more time in the hospital.
The 94-year-old has led an extraordinarily stressful life, and by his own account has suffered from chronic health problems . He spent 27 years in prison for fighting racist white rule, during which he described being ill-fed, overworked and mistreated.
He then entered the crucible of politics, becoming South Africa’s first black president in the nation’s first multi-racial elections in 1994. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with former South African president F.W. De Klerk in 1993 for engineering an end to apartheid.
He was last admitted to a hospital in February. In January 2011, he was hospitalized for several days after contracting a respiratory infection.
The military has largely taken over responsibility for the former president's medical treatment. Maharaj said the military hospital affords Mandela the privacy he needs.
"We want his treatment to be unimpeded, to be done under the least stressful conditions, and for the government to have a free hand to attend to him. I am sure everybody wishes that for him," he said.
The former president retired from public life in 2004 and has recently made few public appearances. He has moved back to his small home village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape.
Mandela status as the father of modern South Africa is evident in the reaction from ordinary South Africans. On Sunday, congregants gathered at the famous Regina Mundi church in Soweto to pray for his recovery.