- Associated Press - Monday, December 10, 2012

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Former South African President Nelson Mandela underwent more medical tests Monday in a military hospital as the public and journalists outside asked what, if anything, is wrong with the health of the 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon?

Government officials in charge of releasing information about Mr. Mandela repeatedly have declined to provide specifics about Mr. Mandela’s now three-day hospitalization, calling on citizens to respect the beloved politician’s privacy.

Yet Mr. Mandela represents something more than a man to many in this nation of 50 million people and to the world at large, and the longer he remains in hospital care, the louder the demand for the private details of his health will grow.

“He symbolizes what our country can achieve with a statesman of his stature. He’s our inspiration and personifies our aspirations,” an editorial in Monday’s edition of the Sowetan newspaper reads. “And that’s why we dread his hospital visits, routine or not. That’s why even now when we are told not to panic, we do.”

Mr. Mandela is revered for being a leader of the struggle against racist white rule in South Africa and for preaching reconciliation once he emerged from prison in 1990 after 27 years behind bars. He won South Africa’s first truly democratic elections in 1994, serving one five-year term. The Nobel laureate later retired from public life to live in his remote village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape, and he last made a public appearance when his country hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.

On Saturday, President Jacob Zuma’s office announced Mr. Mandela had been admitted to a Pretoria hospital for medical tests and for care that was “consistent for his age.” Mr. Zuma visited Mr. Mandela on Sunday and found the former leader to be “comfortable and in good care,” presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.

Such is the level of confidentiality surrounding Mr. Mandela’s hospitalization that it wasn’t until Monday that the public received government confirmation that he was being treated at 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria, the capital. That word came from Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who visited the aging leader there.

Speaking to journalists afterward, Mrs. Mapisa-Nqakula said Mr. Mandela was “undergoing a series of tests to determine what is going on in his body.” She said Mr. Mandela’s release date would be determined by the results of those tests.

“He’s doing very, very well,” Mrs. Mapisa-Nqakula said. “And it is important to keep him in our prayers and also to be as calm as possible and not cause a state of panic because I think that is not what all of us need.”

The presidency later issued a statement Monday saying Mr. Mandela “had a good night’s rest” and would have more tests done.

“He is in good hands,” Mr. Maharaj said in the statement.

Mr. Mandela has had a series of health problems in his life. He contracted tuberculosis during his years in prison and had surgery for an enlarged prostate gland in 1985. In 2001, Mr. Mandela underwent seven weeks of radiation therapy for prostate cancer, ultimately beating the disease.

In February, Mr. Mandela spent a night in the hospital for a minor diagnostic surgery to determine the cause of an abdominal complaint. In January 2011, he was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for what officials initially described as tests but what turned out to be an acute respiratory infection.

The chaos that followed Mr. Mandela’s stay at that public hospital, with journalists and the curious surrounding it and entering wards, saw the South African military take over his care and the government control the information about his health. That has brought many to complain about the lack of concrete details released about Mr. Mandela’s condition in the past three days.

Much of that frustration comes from people’s feelings that Mr. Mandela is more than a man or a national politician, said Frans Cronje, the deputy chief executive of the South African Institute of Race Relations.

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