, CAPE TOWN, Feb 26 – Nelson Mandela is fine after a minor diagnostic procedure to probe persistent abdominal pain, South Africa’s defence minister said Sunday as the country anxiously awaited his release from hospital.
The 93-year-old former president was hospitalised Saturday for what President Jacob Zuma’s office described as “a long-standing abdominal complaint”, putting South Africa on edge over the increasingly frail health of its beloved icon.
Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, whose ministry is charged with Mandela’s health care, said the anti-apartheid hero had undergone diagnostic laparoscopy, a procedure in which doctors probe the abdominal area using a tiny camera.
“He’s fine, he is recovering from anaesthetic and he is as fine as can be at his age. He is fine and handsome,” Sisulu told a press conference in Cape Town.
“If we had it our way, he would be home by now because he is fine.”
Secretary for defence Sam Gulube, a doctor, told AFP the procedure was regarded as non-invasive or minimally invasive and “simply means examination of the abdomen using a camera.” He said Mandela was not operated on.
South African President Jacob Zuma had said Saturday that Mandela would be discharged either Sunday or Monday, but neither Sisulu nor Zuma’s office had an update on his release Sunday morning.
“Let’s work on the basis that no news is good news,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told the Sapa news agency.
“Doctors are thinking of releasing him today or tomorrow, but I’m sure they will want to err on the side of caution.”
The government or family has refused to say where Mandela was hospitalised and called for his privacy to be respected.
Small crowds of journalists were gathered Sunday at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, where Mandela was hospitalised last year, and outside a military hospital in Pretoria, as well as at his Johannesburg home.
The media were kept at a distance from both hospitals and forbidden to take pictures of the Pretoria facility.
South Africa’s front pages carried concerned headlines Sunday but urged readers to stay calm.
“Don’t panic,” urged the City Press in a banner headline.
“World holds its breath, but Madiba ‘fine and fully conscious,’ says President Jacob Zuma,” read the Sunday Times’ front page.
The media generally praised the government for handling the episode better than Mandela’s last hospitalisation, in January 2011, when the government and the Nelson Mandela Foundation kept media largely in the dark about his treatment for an acute respiratory infection.
But The Sunday Independent criticised the secrecy around Mandela’s health as inconsistent with his legacy of openness.
“Mandela, given his iconic stature and his humility as the servant of the people, insisted that the nation be informed about his condition” when he had cataract surgery in 1994 and was treated for prostate cancer in 2001, it said in an editorial.
Mandela is beloved in South Africa for leading the country from the dark days of white-minority rule to democracy, and commands huge respect as an international hero.
Rumours over his health flare up periodically, and his public appearances have grown increasingly rare. The last was at the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
In December, the presidency had to issue an assurance over Mandela’s health after archive television footage of his January 2011 hospitalisation spurred a series of tweets mistakenly announcing new health concerns.
Mandela was released from 27 years in prison in 1990 and was 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.