Nelson Mandela in 'serious' condition, say hospital doctors
Anti-apartheid icon hospitalised for third time in six months as lung infection returns
Former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela was in a "serious but stable" condition yesterday after being taken to hospital with the recurrence of a lung infection.
The government's choice of words, in particular the use of "serious", was clear cause for concern to South Africa's 53 million people, for whom Mandela remains a potent symbol of the struggle against decades of white-minority rule.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said he was optimistic about the health of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
"What I am told by doctors is that he is breathing on his own and … that is a positive sign," he said.
"Madiba is a fighter and at his age, as long as he is fighting he will be fine," Maharaj said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
The 94-year-old, who became South Africa's first black leader in 1994 after an historic all-race election, has been in hospital three times since December. He has been battling the infection for a few days, the government said in a statement.
"This morning at about 1.30am his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to a Pretoria hospital. He remains in a serious but stable condition," it said.
Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, who was due to speak yesterday at a conference on hunger in London, cancelled the engagement and accompanied him to the hospital, the South African Press Association reported.
"It's such painful news, but I pray for him that he can get better and better as he is the best man in this country," said Pretoria resident Khodani Mulwena.
Mandela stepped down as president in 1999 after one term in office and has been out of politics for a decade. His last appearance in public was at the final of the soccer World Cup in Johannesburg in 2010.
He appeared in a brief television clip aired by state television in April during a visit to his home by President Jacob Zuma.
At the time, the ruling African National Congress assured the public Mandela was "in good shape", although the footage showed a thin and frail old man sitting expressionless in an armchair with his head propped against a pillow.
Since his withdrawal from public life, Mandela has divided his time between his plush Johannesburg home and Qunu, the village in the impoverished Eastern Cape province where he was born and spent his early years. His history of lung problems dates back to his years in prison on Robben Island, where he contracted tuberculosis.