Nelson Mandela remained in hospital for an eighth day yesterday, as the government revealed that he has successfully undergone a procedure to have gallstones removed.
"The former president underwent a procedure via endoscopy to have gallstones removed. The procedure was successful and Madiba is recovering," President Jacob Zuma's office said in a statement, using Mr Mandela's clan name.
The government statement said that the 94-year-old was admitted to a hospital near Pretoria, one of South Africa's three capital cities, on 8 December for medical tests, which revealed a recurrence of a lung infection, and that he had developed gallstones. The medical team decided to treat the lung infection before attending to the gallstones, it said.
However, with conflicting information regarding his whereabouts, and the government refusing to confirm where he is being treated, concern has been growing and rumours continue to circulate about his health. Concern about his condition was not eased by conflicting information from ministers regarding his whereabouts and what he is being treated for. The Defence Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, told journalists that she visited Mr Mandela at 1 Military Hospital, a facility where he has previously received treatment. But local journalists began reporting on Thursday that Mr Mandela wasn't there. A spokesman for President Zuma declined to resolve the confusion.
Yesterday, the South African National Editors' Forum issued a statement criticising the government for not being straightforward with journalists about Mr Mandela's hospitalisation. The forum said that journalists had been working with the government to set up guidelines on how to handle coverage of Mr Mandela in the press in his waning years, though state officials ultimately declined to sign off on the agreement.
The statement read: "Senior government representatives have sought to justify misleading statements about the circumstances surrounding Mr Mandela's whereabouts on the basis of irresponsible conduct by print and broadcast news organisations. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Mr Mandela has a history of lung problems, having fallen ill with tuberculosis in 1988, towards the end of his 27 years in prison, before his release and subsequent presidency. Doctors said at the time that the disease caused no lasting damage to his lungs, but medical experts say tuberculosis can cause problems years later for those infected. The Nobel laureate also had an acute respiratory infection in January 2011. Following the chaos that surrounded his stay at a public hospital then, the South African military took charge of his care, and the government took control of information about his health.
News concerning the former president's health comes as the country's governing African National Congress (ANC) prepares to choose its next leader. Some 4,000 delegates will gather in Bloemfontein today to decide whether President Zuma should continue to lead the party, or whether he should be replaced by his trade unionist deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, who would then be likely to become the next president.
President Zuma, 70, is the favourite heading into the conference, after winning the nominations in most provincial ANC polls. He has wide support among Zulus, South Africa's largest ethnic group, as well as from a loyal cadre of government and party officials. But many people have grown disenchanted with Mr Zuma, who was fired as deputy president by Thabo Mbeki in 2005, after he was implicated in the corruption trial of Schabir Shaik over a 1999 arms deal.
His main rival in the ANC is Mr Motlanthe, 63, who served as a caretaker president of South Africa from September 2008 to May 2009. Mr Motlanthe offers what appears to be the opposite of President Zuma's leadership – a quiet, pensive and technocratic approach, that differs from the President's crowd-pleasing comments and dancing.