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'The country must not panic, Mandela is fine' - Zuma reassures South Africa

Concerns have been raised about the hospitalisation of South Africa’s anti-apartheid leader and former president Nelson Mandela earlier today.

Nelson Mandela in 2009
Nelson Mandela in 2009
Image: Themba Hadebe/AP/Press Association Images

NELSON MANDELA IS responding positively to treatment after being readmitted to hospital with a lung infection, the latest health scare for the much-loved anti-apartheid icon.

President Jacob Zuma sought to reassure South Africans that Mandela was in good hands and there was no need to panic. “The country must not panic, Madiba is fine,” Zuma told the BBC, referring to South Africa’s first black president by his tribal name.

The 94-year-old, who has had several recent health scares, was hospitalised just before midnight on Wednesday and is expected to spend a second night in care.

“The doctors advise that former president Nelson Mandela is responding positively to the treatment he is undergoing for a recurring lung infection,” Zuma’s office said in a short statement.

The Nobel peace laureate was conscious when he was admitted, presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj told AFP.

But it is the second time this month that Mandela has spent the night in hospital, after a stint to undergo checkups, which followed a nearly three-week stay in December.

Then Mandela was treated for another lung infection and for gallstone surgery, after which he was released for home-based care.

Outpouring of prayers

The series of hospitalisations has seen an outpouring of prayers, but has also seen South Africans become increasingly fatalistic about the future of their national hero.

“In Zulu, when someone passes away who is very old, people say he or she has gone home. I think those are some of the things we should be thinking about,” Zuma said.

He earlier wished Mandela a quick recovery and asked for people around the world to pray for him: “We appeal to the people of South Africa and the world to pray for our beloved Madiba and his family and to keep them in their thoughts.”

Mandela is adored in South Africa where he is seen as the architect of the country’s peaceful shift to democracy after apartheid.

Nearly twenty years after he came to power he remains a unifying symbol in a country still gripped by racial tensions and deep inequality.

A series of labour unrest, violent crimes, grinding poverty and corruption scandals have effectively ended the honeymoon enjoyed after Mandela ushered in the “Rainbow Nation.”

“He is the voice that holds the country together,” said Kasturi Pandaram in Durban, reacting to news of his hospitalisation. “He’s been a stalwart and I think if anything should happen to him now, with the state the country is in, I think it’s going to fall apart.”

While Mandela the symbol bestrides South African politics, the man has long since exited the political stage. He has not appeared in public since South Africa’s football World Cup final in 2010, six years after retiring.

© AFP, 2013

Earlier: Mandela back in hospital with recurrent lung infection

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