Former president Nelson Mandela. Picture: SOWETAN
Former president Nelson Mandela. Picture: SOWETAN

THE Presidency on Sunday continued to keep a tight rein on information about former president Nelson Mandela’s admission to hospital at the weekend, urging the media to respect the 94-year-old statesman’s privacy.

The Presidency has issued two brief statements since Mr Mandela was admitted on Saturday, but by late Sunday had provided little extra information.

The first statement, issued on Saturday afternoon, said he was undergoing tests in a Pretoria hospital, while the second, issued on Sunday morning, announced that President Jacob Zuma had visited Mr Mandela and found him to be comfortable and in good hands.

"We are not disclosing the hospital, not because we’d like to keep it a secret, but because we’d like to ensure that he is resting, receiving attention under the most comfortable conditions, and so that the team of medical experts are able to do their work unimpeded," presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said on Sunday.

"We continue to make an appeal to the public and the media to respect his privacy and that of his family.’’

It is understood, however, that Mr Mandela had been admitted to 1 Military Hospital in Thabatshwane, Pretoria, after being brought from his Transkei retirement home.

A number of press photographers and video teams camped outside the hospital on Sunday.

The news that Mr Mandela, who has been largely out of public view since the 2010 Soccer World Cup, featured in newspaper and news website headlines around the world at the weekend. The news also began trending on Twitter, with users speculating furiously about Mr Mandela and debating the right of the public to know more.

While the Presidency said it appreciated public concern about the health of South Africa’s most famous citizen, it appealed for Mr Mandela’s privacy to be respected.

"We know millions of people would like to be nearer to where he is but that would not be creating conditions conducive to his receiving medical attention," said Mr Maharaj, declining to be drawn on how long Mr Mandela was expected to remain in hospital.

"The doctors wouldn’t even tell us how long, they are carrying out tests. And you know that when they do tests they might find one thing or other and might want another test. I myself was in hospital six months ago and they kept me there for three days just for tests," Mr Maharaj said.

Mr Mandela was admitted to hospital in January last year for an acute chest infection, a development accompanied by clumsy media communication that led to a frenzy of speculation about his health. The Nelson Mandela Foundation initially said he had been admitted to Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg for "routine checks", then a news blackout fuelled the rumour mill.

Mr Mandela also spent a night in hospital in February this year, so that the nature of an abdominal complaint could be investigated.

Mr Maharaj said he believed lessons had been learnt about how to handle communication about the health of the elder statesman. "Last time we did it reasonably, I hope this time we are doing it better."

Good wishes poured in for Mr Mandela on Sunday, with the Congress of South African Trade Unions saying it hoped there was no cause for concern. National spokesman Patrick Craven said Mr Mandela had been a constant inspiration, through apartheid, jail and exile, the mass uprisings of the 1980s, negotiations, and the days of liberation and reconstruction.

"His leadership was key to our ultimate breakthrough. Get well and continue to inspire us," he said.

Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, who is also the African National Congress Gauteng chairman, said: "May he recover speedily. He remains an inspiration among us and we wish him a long life."

Former president Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mr Mandela, told Business Day that he planned to visit him on Monday.

With Sapa