A worshiper offer prayers for both Easter and for former South African President… (Denis Farrell / Associated…)
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africa’s presidency for the first time Saturday confirmed the seriousness of Nelson Mandela’s illness -- pneumonia -- as the former president prepared to spend a fourth night in the hospital.
South Africans have been praying for the anti-apartheid hero, who is revered as a symbol of peace and reconciliation in a nation often plagued by racial divisions.
Mandela, 94, who has a history of respiratory problems, had a pleural effusion, or fluid in or around the lungs, which had been drained, according to the presidency.
“This has resulted in him now being able to breathe without difficulty. He continues to respond to treatment and is comfortable,” said presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj. His statement was the first suggesting that Mandela had experienced difficulty breathing in recent days.
Earlier updates from South Africa’s presidency said Mandela was in good spirits, responding well, and eating breakfast.
South African authorities have played down the seriousness of Mandela’s illnesses when he has been admitted to the hospital in recent months. In December he spent nearly three weeks in the hospital, but it was only after he was out of danger that South African authorities reported he had been treated for a severe lung infection. He also had surgery for gallstones.
Some unconfirmed news reports this week suggested Mandela had been on a ventilator after being admitted to the hospital.
Since December, Mandela has been under almost constant medical supervision in his home in the northern Johannesburg suburb of Houghton. He was admitted to the hospital earlier this month for what the presidency described as “routine” tests.
Earlier this week President Jacob Zuma urged South Africans not to panic about the health of Mandela, known affectionately by the nickname Madiba.
“The presidency wishes to acknowledge and thank all who have been praying for and sending messages of support to Madiba and his family,” Maharaj said in a statement.
Officials have given no estimate on how long Mandela may remain hospitalized.
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