JOHANNESBURG – Nelson Mandela's political party sang praises for the anti-apartheid icon Sunday, as the 94-year-old leader remained under doctors' care in the longest hospitalization he's faced since leaving prison decades ago.
President Jacob Zuma led delegates of the African National Congress in song as they opened their Mangaung convention, being held in the city also known as Bloemfontein. The song, in Zulu, calls out: "The journey is long, ... Mandela told his followers that we'll meet on freedom day."
In his address, Zuma also touched on Mandela, who has been hospitalized since Dec. 8 for tests while receiving treatment for a lung infection. He also underwent a successful gallstone surgery Saturday.
"He is receiving good care from a competent and caring medical team," Zuma said. "We wish him and the family all the best during this time."
Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president, was admitted to a hospital in South Africa's capital, Pretoria, the government has said. At first, officials said Mandela was undergoing tests and later they acknowledged he had been diagnosed with a lung infection.
The Nobel laureate 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 subsequent presidency. 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.
On Saturday, Mandela underwent endoscopic surgery to remove gallstones, a procedure in which a patient usually receives sedatives and an anesthetic to allow a surgeon to put an endoscope down their throat, authorities say. The surgeon then can remove the gallstones, which are small, crystal-like masses that can cause a person tremendous pain.
Mandela's nine-day hospital stay, his longest since leaving prison in February 1990, has sparked increasing concern about a man who represents the aspirations of a country still struggling with race and poverty. South Africa, a nation of 50 million people, reveres Mandela for his magnanimity and being able to bridge racial gaps after centuries of white racist rule.