South Africa’s first black president and Nobel peace prize laureate Nelson Mandela spent the night in hospital, where he was admitted to undergo tests, officials said yesterday.
South African President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman and former Mandela prison mate Mac Maharaj refused to give details yesterday and said he would give an update when doctors issue a report.
The government insisted there was “no cause for alarm.”
The revered statesman is 94 and has not appeared in public since South Africa’s Football World Cup final in 2010.
Madiba, as he is affectionately known by South Africans, has all but retired from public life, choosing to live in his childhood hometown of Qunu in the rural Eastern Cape.
Villagers in the town reported a slightly unusual movement of police around Mandela’s Qunu homestead on Saturday. He was later flown from Qunu to the capital, Pretoria, about 900km away.
A traditional ruler for the village, Nokwanele Balizulu, told reporters she saw Mandela shortly before he was taken to hospital.
“I was called by the Mandela family saying Tata [grandfather] is not well. I rushed there and I saw he is not well,” she said in the local Xhosa dialect.
Rumors of his failing health or even death flare up periodically, forcing the government to issue assurances to calm the speculation.
His last hospitalization was in February, when he spent a night in hospital for a minor exploratory procedure to investigate persistent abdominal pain. Those tests showed there was nothing wrong with him.
In January last year, Mandela was admitted for a chest infection, sparking public panic and a media frenzy as the government and Mandela’s charitable foundation refused to release information on his condition.
In May, a smiling Mandela made a television appearance to receive a flame to mark the African National Congress’ centenary at his home, but the once spry boxer, who stayed fit during his 27 years in prison by doing calisthenics in his cell, has grown increasingly frail.
However, his stature as one of the world’s most famous and loved public figures remains undimmed.
After years fighting white-only rule, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the last white South African president, F.W. de Klerk, in 1993.
A year later, he crowned his long fight against minority rule by becoming the country’s first black president with the end of apartheid.
After ushering in a period of immense change he handed over to former South African president Thabo Mbeki in 1999.
Lately, he has received visits from US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, former US president Bill Clinton.
Both reported that he was doing well and in good spirits.