South Africa’s presidency declined to directly address reports Thursday that anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela was being treated at a different hospital than previously identified by a senior government official, raising questions about who was caring for the 94-year-old.
Mandela, admitted Saturday to a hospital, had been thought to have been at 1 Military Hospital near the capital, Pretoria, after Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she visited the leader there Monday. But as local media suggested Mandela wasn’t at that hospital Thursday night, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj issued a statement seeming to indicate the politician wasn’t there.
“President Mandela is being treated at a Pretoria hospital as said from the first statement we issued,” Maharaj said. “We have refrained from disclosing the hospital in order to ensure privacy and also to allow doctors space to do their work of caring for (him) without interruptions or undue pressure.”
It was not immediately clear if Mandela had been moved or if he had been at a different facility during his entire six-day hospitalization, his longest since 2001, when he underwent radiation therapy after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. On Monday, addressing journalists after her visit, Mapisa-Nqakula said: “We confirm that former President Mandela is in (the) hospital, 1 Military Hospital, and he’s doing very, very well.”
Government officials could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday night.
South Africa’s government has said Mandela, initially admitted for medical tests, was being treated for a lung infection. Mandela has a history of lung problems, after falling ill with tuberculosis in 1988 toward the tail-end of his 27 years in prison before his release and being elected president. While doctors said at the time the disease caused no permanent damage to his lungs, medical experts say tuberculosis can cause problems years later for those infected.
Mandela had an acute respiratory infection in January 2011 and the chaos surrounding Mandela’s stay at a public hospital saw the South African military take charge of his care and the government control the information about his health.
On Thursday, President Jacob Zuma honored Mandela by unveiling a statue of him in the city of Bloemfontein, also called Mangaung, which next week hosts the governing African National Congress political party’s convention. Mandela once served as an iconic figurehead of the party while in prison, later becoming its leader and the nation’s president. The party still honors him today.
“As we meet, Madiba is recuperating from a lung infection at a Pretoria hospital,” Zuma said, calling the leader by his clan name, often used here as a sign of affection. “We wish him a speedy recovery and assure him yet again of the love and support of many in the country and abroad.”
Each day Mandela is hospitalized causes growing concern in South Africa, a nation of 50 million people that reveres the aging leader for being the nation’s first democratically elected president who sought to bring the country together after centuries of racial division.
Mandela largely retired from public life after serving one five-year term as president, and lived a private life, although he did publicly campaign to raise awareness and fight the nation’s AIDS and HIV epidemic. He last made a public appearance when his country hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament. The Nobel laureate has also grown more frail in recent years, with his grip on politics in the nation ever slackening.