JOHANNESBURG --South Africa’s beloved former president, Nelson Mandela, is in a hospital in serious condition with a lung infection, according to South African government officials, the latest in a worrying series of lung problems.
South African presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement that Mandela, 94, fell ill several days ago, but his condition deteriorated overnight and he was transferred to Pretoria at about 1:30 a.m.
“He remains in a serious but stable condition. The former president is receiving expert medical care and doctors are doing everything possible to make him better and comfortable,” Maharaj said.
Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, cancelled a trip to London where she was to attend a summit on hunger to be with Mandela.
Maharaj said President Jacob Zuma wished Mandela a speedy recovery and called on people to respect the Mandela family’s privacy.
Mandela was hospitalized for nearly three weeks in December with a lung infection and also underwent gallstone surgery. When he was again admitted in April with a lung infection, South Africans held meetings to pray for his recovery, and people across the globe sent goodwill messages.
It is Mandela’s fifth visit to a hospital in two years, each one sparking anxiety for South Africans.
Dozens of news crews gathered outside Mandela’s home in suburban Houghton, north of Johannesburg, while others waited outside a Pretoria hospital.
Mandela, revered as South Africa’s first post-apartheid black president, served one term as president and stepped down in 1999 to concentrate on charity work helping children, particularly those orphaned through AIDS. He has not been active in public life for almost a decade. But he remains an enormously important symbol of hope and unity in South Africa, a country with lingering racial tensions, widespread poverty and massive social problems.
On previous occasions, the South African government has downplayed the seriousness of Mandela’s illnesses. The government’s frank admission that Mandela is in serious condition underscores the statesman’s increasing frailty.
However Maharaj told eNCA television that the former president, known affectionately in South Africa by his clan name, Madiba, was breathing without a respirator and that the condition was “treatable on its own.”
“What I am told is that he is breathing on his own and I think that is a positive sign. Madiba is a fighter and at his age, as long as he is fighting, he will be fine,” Maharaj said.
Officials of the ruling African National Congress expressed their concern and called on South Africans to pray for Mandela.