Published December 14, 2012
JOHANNESBURG – Where is Nelson Mandela?
As the 94-year-old patriarch of South Africa's democracy entered his seventh day of hospitalization Friday for a recurring lung infection, confusion grew as government officials appeared to contradict themselves over where he is being treated.
With the government refusing to say where Mandela is, concern grew across this nation of 50 million people about the health of the anti-apartheid icon.
Mandela, admitted Saturday to a hospital, was thought to have been at 1 Military Hospital near South Africa's capital, Pretoria, after Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she visited the leader there Monday. But when local media reported that Mandela wasn't at that hospital Thursday night, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj declined to give the whereabouts of the ailing politician.
"President Mandela is being treated at a Pretoria hospital as said from the first statement we issued," Maharaj said. "We have refrained from disclosing the hospital in order to ensure privacy and also to allow doctors space to do their work of caring for (him) without interruptions or undue pressure."
It was not immediately clear if Mandela had been moved or if he had been at a different facility during his entire seven-day hospitalization, his longest since 2001, when he underwent radiation therapy after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
On Monday, addressing journalists after her visit, Mapisa-Nqakula said: "We confirm that former President Mandela is in (the) hospital, 1 Military Hospital, and he's doing very, very well."
Sonwabo Mbananga, a defense department spokesman, said Friday that "the minister is not going to clarify anything" about her remarks Monday and declined to comment further.
On Friday, journalists saw a convoy of presidential security cars and an ambulance leave a private Pretoria hospital and later arrive at 1 Military Hospital. However, it could not be immediately determined if the convoy had anything to do with Mandela's care.
Speaking to The Associated Press on Friday afternoon, Maharaj again declined to identify which hospital Mandela was staying at, saying officials are "trying to protect his privacy." When asked about the defense minister's comments, Maharaj said the presidency had been consistent in avoiding identifying the hospital and declined to comment further.
Mandela "has been comfortable the past 24 hours and continues to receive care," Maharaj said.
South Africa's government has said Mandela, initially admitted for medical tests, was being treated for a lung infection. Mandela has a history of lung problems, after falling ill with tuberculosis in 1988 toward the tail-end of his 27 years in prison before his release and being elected president. While doctors said at the time the disease caused no permanent damage to his lungs, medical experts say tuberculosis can cause problems years later for those infected.
Mandela had an acute respiratory infection in January 2011 and following the chaos surrounding Mandela's stay at a public hospital the South African military took charge of his care and the government took over control the information about his health.