The ambulance that was supposed to rush Nelson Mandela to hospital two weeks ago broke down en route, forcing staff to transfer the ailing former president to another vehicle. South African officials confirmed yesterday that the ambulance he was travelling in suffered from "engine trouble".
The 94-year-old was moved to a hospital in Pretoria on 8 June with a lung infection and has been in a "serious but stable condition" ever since. The US network CBS reported that Mr Mandela was kept by the side of the road in freezing temperatures for 40 minutes as the team waited for a replacement ambulance. It also cited unnamed sources as saying that he had gone into cardiac arrest on the night he was rushed to hospital and had to be resuscitated.
A spokesman for President Jacob Zuma, Mac Maharaj, admitted Mr Mandela had to be transferred to another vehicle but said he was accompanied at all times by intensive-care specialists. "I appreciate the concern but I want to assure the public that all care was taken to ensure that President Mandela's medical condition was not compromised by this incident," he told a local TV station, eNCA.
There have been mixed messages about the former leader's health over the past two weeks. In recent days, the former president Thabo Mbeki and Mr Mandela's grandson Ndaba have suggested that his health is improving. The office of the presidency has remained cautious, saying his condition has not changed significantly.
But CBS News said: "We're told he hasn't opened his eyes in days and is unresponsive. We also understand that Mandela family members are discussing just how much medical intervention is enough for an old and very sick man."