JOHANNESBURG -- South Africa's former 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 Mandela have repeatedly declined to provide specifics about Mandela's now three-day hospitalization, calling on citizens to respect the beloved politician's privacy. Yet 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 about 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."
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 last made a public appearance
On Saturday, President Jacob Zuma's office announced Mandela had been admitted to a Pretoria hospital for medical tests and for care that was "consistent for his age." Zuma visited 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 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, Mapisa-Nqakula said Mandela was "undergoing a series of tests to determine what is going on in his body." She said Mandela's release date would be determined by the result of those tests.
"He's doing very, very well," 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 Mandela "had a good night's rest" and would have more tests done.
"He is in good hands," Maharaj said in the statement.