South Africa at crossroads as Mandela hospitalized

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by Jon Gambrell
Associated Press Writer

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela is “doing very, very well” while undergoing unspecified medical tests at a military hospital, the nation’s defense minister said Monday. The office of the presidency said the anti-apartheid icon was being kept in the hospital for a third day for more tests.

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COUNTRY WORRIES–A newspaper vendor sells Sunday newspapers reporting on former South African President, Nelson Mandela, in Johannesburg Sunday Dec. 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

Mandela is revered by South Africans, and by many people around the world, for being a leader of the struggle against racist White rule in South Africa and for preaching reconciliation once he emerged from prison in 1990 after 27 years behind bars. He won South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994 that marked the end of apartheid.

South Africans tensely awaited word Monday on Mandela even as authorities tried to offer reassurances, but gave no details.

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NELSON MANDELA

Mandela’s admission to the hospital on Saturday for sparked screaming newspapers headlines and ripples of fear in the public that the frail leader is fading further away.

And as his African National Congress political party stands ready to pick its leader who likely will be the nation’s next president, some believe governing party politicians have abandoned Mandela’s integrity and magnanimity in a seemingly unending string of corruption scandals. That leaves many wondering who can lead the country the way the ailing Mandela once did.

“When you have someone that’s willing to lead by example like he did, it makes things easier for people to follow,” said Thabile Manana, who worshipped Sunday at Soweto’s Regina Mundi Catholic church. “Lately, the examples are not so nice. It’s hard. I’m scared for the country.”

Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula spoke to journalists outside 1 Military Hospital in the capital, Pretoria, after seeing Mandela, 94. She offered the first government confirmation that Mandela, who has received military medical care since 2011, is at that hospital.

“He’s doing very, very well,” she said. “And it is important to keep him in our prayers and also to be as calm as possible and not cause a state of panic because I think that is not what all of us need.”

A statement issued later Monday by the office of President Jacob Zuma said Mandela “had a good night’s rest. The doctors will still conduct further tests today. He is in good hands. “

On Saturday, Zuma’s office announced Mandela had been admitted to a Pretoria hospital for medical tests and care that was “consistent for his age.” Zuma visited Mandela Sunday and found the former leader to be “comfortable and in good care,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement. Maharaj offered no other details about Mandela, nor what medical tests he had undergone since entering the hospital.

In February, Mandela spent a night in a hospital for a minor diagnostic surgery to determine the cause of an abdominal complaint. In January 2011, Mandela was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for what officials initially described as tests but what turned out to be an acute respiratory infection.

Mandela contracted tuberculosis during his years in prison and had surgery for an enlarged prostate gland in 1985. In 2001, Mandela underwent seven weeks of radiation therapy for prostate cancer, ultimately beating the disease.

After serving one five-year term, the Nobel laureate retired from public life and later settled in his remote village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape area. He last made a public appearance when his country hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament. He has grown increasingly frail in recent years.

(Associated Press writer Thomas Phakane in Pretoria, South Africa, contributed to this report.)

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