, JOHANNESBURG, Feb 26 – Nelson Mandela underwent hospital tests Saturday but officials and a grand-daughter reassured an anxious public that the 93-year-old anti-apartheid icon was not in danger and could leave within two days.
The hospital stay was for a planned “diagnostic procedure” to investigate an abdominal complaint, President Jacob Zuma said, without specifying the exact ailment.
“Madiba is fine and fully conscious and the doctors are satisfied with his condition, which they say is consistent with his age,” said Zuma, using Mandela’s nickname.
“He is receiving good medical care and is expected to be discharged from hospital either tomorrow or Monday.”
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is beloved by the nation for leading the country from the dark days of white-minority rule to democracy and commands huge respect as an international hero.
Officials have moved to stem panic, as any health scare sparks national fears with the statesman growing increasingly frail outside the public spotlight. His last major public appearance was in July 2010.
“He was in good health before admission in hospital but doctors felt the complaint needed a thorough investigation. He underwent a diagnostic procedure as part of his ongoing medical management,” Zuma said.
“We are happy that he is not in any danger and thank the doctors for their hard work and professionalism.”
Family and officials have refused to say where he is being treated with appeals for his privacy.
Journalists trying to track the statesman’s location have been barred entry to hospitals, with one photographer forced to delete pictures of a Pretoria military hospital.
“We are satisfied that his condition is not life-threatening and that the admission was long arranged and therefore it’s not an emergency admission,” said the ruling African National Congress which Mandela led to power 18 years ago.
“We believe that he is in good hands and therefore there is no need for panic.”
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj would not comment on press reports that Mandela had undergone surgery for a hernia.
“I really do not want to respond to rumours, my job is to tell the facts as they are,” he told AFP, pointing to the report from specialists.
ANC spokesman Keith Khoza earlier told the eNews private television channel that the admission was “a check-up, there’s no operation involved”.
Mandela’s oldest granddaughter Ndileka Mandela told AFP she was not worried.
“I don’t see it as a big thing. He’s in perfect health. When I saw him on Wednesday, he was in good spirits, in perfect health, and, you know, the epitome of health really for a man of his age,” she said.
“I’m not worried. I mean grandad rebounded from his illness last year. I don’t see any reason why this should be any different.”
The reassurances come after a virtual news blackout last year scared the public, following Mandela’s hospitalisation for an acute respiratory infection that was initially described as “routine” tests.
Since then, he has divided his time between Johannesburg and his rural home village in the Eastern Cape, some 800 kilometres (500 miles) from the country’s economic hub. He returned to Johannesburg last month.
Rumours over Mandela’s health flare up periodically.
In December, the presidency had to issue an assurance of his health after archive television footage of his January 2011 hospitalisation spurred a series of tweets mistakenly announcing new ill health concerns.
Mandela was released from 27 years in prison in 1990 to be elected South Africa’s first black president four years later. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and served one term before stepping down in 1999.