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Nelson Mandela, 92, remains hospitalized; rumors swirl in South Africa

The former South African president was hospitalized for what were said to be routine tests. There was no announcement explaining his longer stay, fueling rumors that he had died.

January 28, 2011|By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times
  • Children post get-well cards on the gates of their school as Nelson Mandela enters a second day of what his foundation has called "routine checks" at a Johannesburg hospital.
Children post get-well cards on the gates of their school as Nelson Mandela… (Kim Ludbrook, EPA )

Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa — For the second time in a few weeks, rumors swept South Africa on Thursday that Nelson Mandela, the country's beloved former president, had died.

Mandela, 92, was hospitalized Wednesday for what were described as routine tests, and he remained in the hospital Thursday.

There was no official announcement on the reasons for the longer stay. Reuters news agency reported that he was recovering from a collapsed lung and might be discharged Friday.

Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president who was imprisoned for 27 years because of his struggle against apartheid, is regarded as one of the world's most inspiring liberation leaders. He was president from 1994 to 1999.

In recent years, the increasingly frail Mandela has largely withdrawn from sight. However, he appeared in a golf cart at the final match of soccer's World Cup in Johannesburg in July. A month earlier, a somber Mandela attended the funeral of his great-granddaughter, Zenani, who was killed in a car accident on the way home from a World Cup concert.

In 2008, he endorsed Jacob Zuma as African National Congress leader at the earthy populist's last rally by circling a football stadium in a golf cart amid a crush of euphoric ANC supporters.

In the last year, South Africa has endured several episodes of rumors of Mandela's death on social networking sites, including a flurry of reports on Twitter in mid-January.

Mandela's old friend and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, said Thursday that he saw Mandela last week and he was well but frail. A South African newspaper Sunday reported that his health had deteriorated.

The failure of his charitable group, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, to update a Wednesday statement that he was having routine tests, or to issue reassurances Thursday, helped rouse concern about Mandela's condition.

A succession of top ANC leaders visiting him in the hospital also fueled speculation. South African news media reported a "news blackout" on his condition.

Zuma, now South Africa's president, is in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. He said there that Mandela was "comfortable" and being well looked-after at Milpark Hospital, north of Johannesburg, not far from his home in Houghton.

The hospital and his home were cordoned off to keep journalists and well-wishers at bay.

Defense Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who was keeping Zuma informed of Mandela's condition, said the president wanted to give Mandela's family privacy to support him with dignity.

National anxiety increased after his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, left the hospital in tears after a three-hour visit. They separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996, but they see each other at family events.

His current wife, Graca Machel, was reported to have been at the hospital, along with many other family members and a stream of high-profile visitors.

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