JOHANNESBURG, Jan 27 – South Africa\’s revered former president Nelson Mandela\’s hospital stay stretched into a second day on Thursday, as the nation grew increasingly concerned for the anti-apartheid hero\’s health.
The news that Madiba – the clan name by which the 92-year-old Nobel peace prize winner is affectionately known, and the country\’s first elected black leader – remained under medical supervision has put the nation on edge.
Current President Jacob Zuma called for calm as the nation awaited updates on Mandela\’s condition amid a virtual news blackout since he was admitted for "routine tests" on Wednesday.
"President Mandela is comfortable and is well looked after by a good team of medical specialists," Zuma said in a statement from Davos, where he is attending the World Economic Forum.
"We urge the media to afford him the dignity and respect that he is entitled to as the country\’s founding democratic president, as a national hero and also as a citizen of the republic."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who described Mandela as frail after meeting him last week, said on Thursday that Madiba remained in "amazing" condition for his age, but did not comment specifically on his hospitalisation.
"What more do we want from him? We want him to remain forever, but you know… anything can happen," Tutu, a leading figure during the anti-apartheid struggle, said.
The ruling African National Congress party earlier urged people to refrain from speculation.
"We call on all South Africans to remain calm regarding the hospitalisation of Madiba and not press any panic buttons, as there is no reason for that whatsoever," said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu.
"If there is any change in the hospitalisation of Madiba, including his discharge from hospital, (it) will be communicated."
The Nelson Mandela Foundation, established to continue his charitable work after withdrawing from public life in 2004, said Wednesday that Mandela was in Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg for tests but his health was not in jeopardy.
"He is in no danger and is in good spirits," said a statement from the foundation. It has made no further comment.
The Star newspaper reported Thursday that Mandela had been seen by a lung specialist at the private hospital.
"He has been admitted for investigation," the doctor, Michael Plit, told the newspaper. He declined to comment on Mandela\’s condition.
Mandela\’s wife, Graca Machel, arrived at the hospital around 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Thursday, around an hour after ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who separated from him in 1992, departed.
Machel\’s daughter Josina and Mandela\’s personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, were also at the hospital Thursday morning.
Other visitors included Mandla Mandela, Madiba\’s grandson and chief of the traditional council in the family\’s home village of Mvezo.
As media flocked to the hospital, a tight security presence surrounded the building — with police checking all visitors\’ cars to make sure no journalists were hiding in the boot.
At a school next door to the hospital, children had decorated a fence with colourful pictures of hands and hearts and messages of support.
"We hope you\’ll get well soon," said one.
"Madiba, we love you," said a sign in one of the school\’s windows.
Ntho Molena, a 16-year-old school pupil, said she and her colleagues were praying for Mandela to get well.
"We feel it is very important to offer our support to the former president of South Africa because he brought major changes to us the children.
"We are entering the great reward he fought for when he was in prison," she told AFP.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his role in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, emerging in 1990 to lead the transition to democracy.
As South Africa\’s first black president, he defied the threat of civil war to lead a process of reconciliation in a country long divided against itself.
His public appearances have become increasingly rare since his retirement, the last such outing being at the closing ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg in July.