South Africa Says ‘No Need to Panic’ Over Mandela

South Africa’s Former President Nelson Mandela
South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela. Photographer: Naashon Zalk/Bloomberg

South Africa’s Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said there is “no need to panic” over the health of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president, who spent a second night in hospital while undergoing tests.

“There has been mounting concern about the health of the former President Nelson Mandela,” Motlanthe said in a statement on SAPA-PR wire today. “These tests are necessary to provide optimal health care. Medically there is no need to panic.” Mandela, 92, has had respiratory complaints in the past, he said.

Mandela, who was jailed by the apartheid government for 27 years and released in 1990, checked into the Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg for “routine tests,” his foundation said in an e-mailed statement two days ago. The foundation hasn’t commented since and queries left on the mobile phones of officials at the organization have not been answered. Police have boosted security at the hospital and at his Johannesburg house.

Motlanthe is scheduled to hold a press conference at Milpark at 12:30 p.m. today to discuss Mandela’s health.

“People have flooded to the hospital and to his house,” police spokesman Vish Naidoo said in an interview from Johannesburg yesterday. “We are concerned about potential threats and risks so we had to step up security. We will review on a constant basis whether this needs to be further increased.”

Armed Struggle

Mandela, who lives in the affluent Houghton suburb, was imprisoned for plotting an armed struggle against South Africa’s whites-only government. His release paved the way for the end of white-minority rule and he became president in 1994 after the African National Congress won the country’s first all-race elections. He stepped down after one term in 1999.

The former president is being treated for a lung-related infection, possibly pneumonia, the Johannesburg-based Star reported today, without citing anyone. Earlier this week the newspaper reported that Michael Plit, a lung specialist, saw Mandela on Jan. 26. He didn’t give further details and his receptionist said yesterday he wasn’t taking calls from reporters when contacted by Bloomberg.

Journalists are gathered outside the hospital where no one is allowed in without verifying the name of the patient they are visiting. Police have also barricaded an area spreading 100 meters (328 feet) from Mandela’s home, Naidoo said.

Stream of Visitors

Visitors, including his current wife Graca Machel, streamed into the hospital throughout the day yesterday. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mandela’s second wife, arrived at the hospital as did Jeff Radebe, South Africa’s justice minister, Richard Maponya, the developer of Soweto’s first major shopping mall, and Albertina Sisulu, an anti-apartheid activist.

“He is in good health and good spirits,” Zondwa Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, said in an interview from his mobile phone. He said he visited his grandfather at the hospital on Jan. 26.

“Nelson Mandela is still admitted at the Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, where he is undergoing a routine medical check-up,” the ANC said in an e-mailed statement. “We call on all South Africans to remain calm regarding the hospitalization of Madiba and not press any panic buttons,” the party said, using Mandela’s clan name.

Children at the McAuley House School, neighboring the hospital, placed hand-painted posters on the school’s windows and gates that read “get well soon Madiba.”

“President Mandela is comfortable and well looked after by a good team of medical specialists,” South African President Jacob Zuma said in a statement on his website. “The doctors also need to be allowed to do their work without undue pressure.”

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