Mandela spends Xmas in hospital

Agence France-Presse
94-year-old Mandela is recovering from a gallstones operation and it is unknown when he will be discharged

FATHER OF THE NATION. Mandela was jailed for almost 40 years and led the struggle against apartheid before becoming President of South Africa between 1994 and 1999. Photo from his Facebook fan page

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Ailing icon Nelson Mandela spent Christmas Eve in a hospital, sixteen days after he was admitted for a recurrent lung infection — his longest inpatient stay since he was released from prison in 1990.

Officials say the 94-year-old statesman, who also underwent a procedure to remove gallstones, is still recuperating.

There was no indication when he might be discharged.

“He remains in hospital, recovering,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told AFP on Monday.

“I can’t say when he will be discharged, doctors will make that decision.”

Limited details of Mandela’s condition have been made public by the South African government, which has repeatedly called on the public to respect the former president’s privacy.

President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela on Saturday. Following the meeting he revealed Mandela was “responding to treatment”.

The Nobel Laureate was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on December 8.

Still an icon in South Africa

Before his retirement in 2004 Mandela used to host a Christmas feast in his home village of Qunu for impoverished children — a highlight for many.

Since retiring from public life, Christmas has been a more low-key affair, spent with family.

Neither tradition seems likely to be repeated this year.

While many South Africans have resigned themselves to the idea of life without the country’s most respected citizen, he remains highly esteemed and was the subject of many prayers.

On Monday churchgoers at the renowned Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto sent him messages of love and support after mass.

Others, including local celebrities, have taken to social networking sites to wish Madiba — the clan name he is fondly known by — a speedy recovery.

“Thinking of Madiba tonight, prayers that he gets well soon just in time for Christmas,” wrote radio and television personality Jeannie D.

First black president

Mandela who became South Africa’s first black president after the country’s first all-race elections in 1994 has a long history of lung problems.

Mandela contracted tuberculosis — a disease which killed his father — while in jail as a political prisoner.

The former statesman was later hospitalised for an acute respiratory infection in January 2011, when he was held for two nights.

Mandela was last seen in public in 2010, clad in a scarf during the closing ceremony of the FIFA World Cup, when he was wheeled into the stadium in a golf cart.

In May, footage of a smiling, grey-haired Madiba seated on a couch, was shown on television when he was visited by ruling ANC leaders to present him with a symbolic flame to mark the party’s 100 years.

Mandela stepped down in 1999 after serving one term as president. –