JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela was back in hospital on Saturday in a “serious but stable” condition suffering from a recurrent lung infection, the latest health scare for South Africa’s frail anti-apartheid icon.
Mandela, who turns 95 next month, was admitted to hospital in the capital Pretoria in the early hours of Saturday, his fourth hospital stay in seven months .
“During the past few days former president Nelson Mandela has had a recurrence of lung infection,” President Jacob Zuma’s office said in a statement.
“This morning at about 1:30 am (2330 GMT Friday) his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to a Pretoria hospital. He remains in a serious but stable condition.”
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has long had problems with his lungs, had been released from hospital in April following a 10-day stay for treatment for pneumonia.
In December 2012, he was hospitalised for 18 days for a lung infection and for gallstones surgery, his longest stay since he walked free from 27 years in jail in 1990. In March he was admitted for a day for a scheduled check-up.
Zuma’s office said on Saturday that “the former president is receiving expert medical care and doctors are doing everything possible to make him better and comfortable.”
“President Jacob Zuma, on behalf of government and the nation, wishes Madiba a speedy recovery and requests the media and the public to respect the privacy of Madiba and his family,” it added, using Mandela’s clan name.
Beloved as South Africa’s first black democratically elected president, Mandela is still a powerful symbol of unity for the once-bitterly divided nation almost 20 years after first taking power.
But he has not been seen in public since the World Cup final in July 2010 when he appeared on the pitch before kick-off.
In March, Zuma appeared to prepare the nation for the passing of the father of the “Rainbow Nation”.
“In Zulu, when someone passes away who is very old, people say he or she has gone home. I think those are some of the things we should be thinking about,” Zuma told the BBC.
Following his April hospital stay, the release of television footage showing a frail and distant Mandela being visited at home by leaders of the ruling ANC sparked outrage and accusations that the party was exploiting Mandela.
The images aired by state broadcaster SABC - the first public footage of the Nobel peace laureate in almost nine months - showed an unsmiling, distant Mandela seated upright on a couch, his legs covered in a blanket.
His head was propped up by a pillow, he appeared to speak at one point and closed his eyes tight when someone in the room took a photo with flash.
He was surrounded by ruling African National Congress leaders including Zuma, who said Mandela was doing well and “up and about”.
South Africans took to social networks to accuse politicians of parading their national hero in front of the cameras for their own gain.
The ANC has struggled to convince the public that it is still the party of Mandela, amid widespread corruption, poverty and poor public services ahead of a presidential election next year.
Mandela’s own family has also been locked in a feud over control of various companies.
The ANC - which Mandela led into power in 1994 - said Saturday that it would keep him and his family in its thoughts and prayers.
It called on South Africans and people around the world “to do the same for our beloved statesman and icon, Madiba”.
“We send to him our well wishes for a speedy recovery so that he may soon be discharged to return to the care and comfort of his home,” the party said.
Mandela was diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988 during his 27 years in jail during white minority rule and has long had problems with his lungs.
He has also had treatment for prostate cancer and has suffered stomach ailments.
His eyesight is also said to be highly sensitive to flashlight due to damage caused by the long time he spent working on a quarry during his imprisonment on Robben Island.