JOHANNESBURG - Former South African President Nelson Mandela is not only recovering from a lung infection, but also from a surgery this morning to remove gallstones.
The 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero was flown to an undisclosed hospital in the capital city of Pretoria a week ago, Dec. 8, to undergo a series of medical tests. Government officials said today that doctors decided to treat the recurring lung infection first before deciding when to remove the gallstones.
"The procedure was successful, and Madiba is recovering," said a statement from the Office of the Presidency, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
This has become Mandela's longest hospitalization in more than two decades. He spent a few days in the hospital in January 2011 when first treated for a lung infection, and he was briefly hospitalized in February for a minor diagnostic surgery to discover the source of abdominal pain. Within months he was well enough to pose for pictures with some high-profile visitors at his home, including Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Concern about Mandela's health has grown over the past week as the government refused to release details about his condition and was accused of misleading the media about where he was receiving care. The country's defense minister said on Monday that he was at the main military hospital in Pretoria, but later in the week sources told local media he was being treated at a private hospital in the city. Government officials refuse to clarify whether he was moved, saying they will not discuss his exact location in order to protect the family's privacy.
Mandela has been retired from public life since 2004 and now spends most of his time at his home in his rural childhood village. His last public appearance was at the 2010 World Cup tournament in South Africa. Though he hasn't been active in politics in many years, South Africans say they are praying for his recovery because he personifies so many of the ideals their young democratic nation is still working to achieve.
After being imprisoned for more than three decades by a whites-only government that implemented cruel apartheid policies, Mandela championed forgiveness and racial reconciliation and led the peaceful transition to a democracy. Beginning in 1994, he served one 5-year term as the nation's first black president.