Where is Nelson Mandela?
As the 94-year-old former South African president and patriarch of South Africa’s democracy entered his eighth day of hospitalization yesterday for a recurring lung infection, confusion grew as government officials appeared to contradict themselves over where he is being treated.
With the government refusing to say where Mandela is, concern grew across the nation of 50 million people about the health of the anti-apartheid icon.
Mandela, admitted on Saturday last week to a hospital, was thought to have been at 1 Military Hospital near South Africa’s legislative capital, Pretoria, after South African Minister of Defense Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she visited the leader there on Monday.
However, when local media reported that Mandela was not at that hospital on Thursday night, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj declined to give the whereabouts of the ailing politician.
“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 eight-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.”
Sonwabo Mbananga, a defense department spokesman, said on Friday that “the minister is not going to clarify anything” about her remarks on Monday and declined to comment further.
On Friday, journalists saw a convoy of presidential security cars and an ambulance leave a private Pretoria hospital and later arrive at 1 Military Hospital. However, it could not be immediately determined if the convoy had anything to do with Mandela’s care.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Maharaj again declined to identify which hospital Mandela was staying at, saying officials are “trying to protect his privacy.”
When asked about the defense minister’s comments, Maharaj said the presidency had been consistent in avoiding identifying the hospital and declined to comment further.
Mandela “has been comfortable the past 24 hours and continues to receive care,” Maharaj said.
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. Mandela had an acute respiratory infection in January last year and following the media chaos surrounding Mandela’s stay at a public hospital, the South African military took charge of his care and the government took over control the information about his health.