Paul Ohia with agency report
After nearly four days of secrecy on the nature of the ill health of former South African President, Mr. Nelson Mandela, which has led to his hospitalisation, the South African government revealed yesterday that he is being treated for lung infection.
A statement from the government said that the ageing statesman, who had undergone a series of tests, was responding well to treatment. He was rushed to the hospital last Saturday, for an undisclosed ailment.
An initial report that he had stopped talking whilst still in the hospital raised anxiety about the state of health of Mandela, 94, prompting many South Africans to hold prayer sessions to intercede for his quick recovery.
On their part, doctors have been working round the clock to ensure clinical accuracy in the results of the tests carried out and the administration of the appropriate treatment regime for him.
“Doctors have concluded the tests, and these have revealed a recurrence of a previous lung infection, for which Madiba is receiving appropriate treatment, and he is responding to the treatment,” the statement from President Jacob Zuma's office reported by the Agence France Presse (AFP), said.
While Mandela is said to be doing well, medical experts have warned that for a 94-year-old, any hint of an infection could be serious.
Chest infections are among the most common problems seen in elderly patients but "in people of extreme age it is always a potential concern," said Mark Sonderup, vice-chairman of the South African Medical Association.
Mandela is said to be having recurrent lungs pain, and he is being treated with antibiotics and also exposed to physiotherapy treatment.
Mandela's hospitalisation means he is suffering from something that is "more than just the simple cough," Sonderup added.
During the four days of medical tests that have brought only sketchy details about his condition, many South Africans appeared resigned to the fact that the nation's first black president will indeed not be around forever.
Most South Africans are understandably emotive about the Mandela phenomenon. An unnamed South African had sent a get-well card with the note: “Get well quick. You brought freedom into our world. Without you, we won’t be here today.”
Another South African, Victor Ncube, a waiter at a busy Johannesburg restaurant, according to AFP, said: "The thing is that the man is very old, it's hard to accept he won't make it, but it's his age."
But the latest report has raised hopes for a prompt discharge of the Madiba from a Pretoria military hospital.
"He is a strong man," said Victor Brown, a manager with an energy and chemical firm Sasol. "We hope for the best and hope he recovers well."
The former president who led South Africa to democracy in 1994 has a long history of lung problems.
He was previously hospitalised for an acute respiratory infection in January 2011, during which he was on admission for two nights.
He was released in a stable condition for home-based care and intense medical monitoring.
In 1988, while serving his 27-year prison term, Mandela was diagnosed with early stage tuberculosis after being admitted to a hospital in Stellenbosch with a bad cough and weakness and having complained of dampness in his cell.
Two litres of fluid were drained from his chest and he spent six weeks recuperating in the hospital before being transferred to a private clinic near his mainland Cape Town prison where he was the facility's first black patient.
The latest scare about his health became public on Saturday when Mandela was flown from his rural home village of Qunu to a military hospital where he had to undergo tests, which the authorities said were common for people of his age.
At 94, Mandela has been to hospital three times in the last two years. His health has remained fairly stable, although weakened by age, causing him some frailty in recent times.
Government officials have sought to calm fears around his health, saying he does not face immediate danger, with the presidency issuing a sketchy daily update to the media.
Local radio and television stations have interrupted scheduled programming to break news about Mandela's health status.
Over a decade after he left office, the tall grey-haired Nobel peace laureate retains a prominent place in the national psyche, and his health has become a subject of global obsession as he ages.