Global peace icon and former statesman Nelson Mandela was hospitalized on Saturday for a “scheduled medical check-up,” the South African presidency said, months after he underwent treatment for lung infection and gallstones.
“Former president Nelson Mandela was admitted to hospital in Pretoria this afternoon, 9 March, 2013, for a scheduled medical checkup to manage the existing conditions in line with his age,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.
“Doctors are conducting tests and have thus far indicated that there is no cause for any alarm,” Maharaj added.
The 94-year-old spent 18 days in hospital in December last year, when he received treatment for a recurrent lung infection and had surgery to extract gallstones.
The stint was his longest hospital stay since his release from prison in 1990.
He was discharged the day after Christmas and was last known to be convalescing under high care at his home in Johannesburg.
Mandela’s grandson Mandla, the current head of the family clan, flew to Pretoria from his Eastern Cape Province home on Saturday afternoon upon learning of the hospitalization, a family member said.
The family knew nothing yet of Mandela’s condition, he said.
After his previous discharge doctors insisted he stay in Johannesburg for now to be near the country’s top medical facilities.
He retired to his childhood village, Qunu, in the Eastern Cape a few years ago.
“We appeal for privacy both for the doctors to be able to attend to their patient and for Madiba and his family,” said Maharaj, using the Nobel Peace laureate’s clan name.
South African President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela on Feb. 11 before attending the Africa Cup of Nations final in Johannesburg.
Zuma found the former statesman “comfortable and relaxed” and watching television.
“He had the brightest smile,” Zuma said.
Maharaj on Saturday told local television eNews Channel Africa the world icon looked well the last time he saw him.
“He was on that day [in] exceptional shape ... he is 94 — we have to bear that in mind — and frail,” said Maharaj, who spent a few years imprisoned on Robben Island off Cape Town’s coast together with Mandela during apartheid.
It was unclear how long Mandela needed to stay in hospital this time, Maharaj added.
The revered statesman, who turned 94 in July last year, has not appeared in public since South Africa’s Football World Cup final in 2010.
Rumors of his failing health or even death flare up periodically, forcing the government to issue assurances that all is well.
However, authorities also have been known to play down his treatments as routine checkups.
His December hospitalization was attributed to tests “consistent with his age.”
In February last year he spent a night in hospital after receiving a minor exploratory procedure to investigate persistent abdominal pain.
In January 2011 he set the nation on edge when he was hospitalized for two nights with an unnamed acute respiratory infection, which the government initially described as “routine” testing.
While serving his 27-year prison term, Mandela was diagnosed with early stage tuberculosis in 1988, a disease which killed his father.
In 2001, he received radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer and told reporters the following year that he had been given a clean bill of health against the disease.
Mandela served one term as South Africa’s first black president after winning historic all-race elections in 1994.
Having spent almost three decades in prison for opposing apartheid, he is revered as the symbol of the country’s peaceful shift into democracy after racist white minority rule.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, together with apartheid South Africa’s last president, F.W. de Klerk.
Mandela the man has grown increasingly frail in recent years, remaining out of the public eye at his rural home village in the Eastern Cape.