JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela remained hospitalized Saturday for an eighth day as he recuperated from a lung infection, as a press group criticized the government for offering "misleading statements" about the former president’s whereabouts.
The 94-year-old political leader was admitted to a hospital near South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, on Dec. 8 for medical tests, the government said. Government officials later announced that Mandela was suffering from a recurrent lung infection, an affliction he had in 2011 as well.
In recent days, government officials appeared to contradict themselves over where Mandela was receiving treatment. Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told journalists Monday that she visited Mandela at 1 Military Hospital, a facility where Mandela has previously received treatment. However, as local journalists began reporting Thursday that Mandela wasn’t there, a spokesman for President Jacob Zuma declined to address the claims.
With the government refusing to say where Mandela is, concern is growing and rumors continue to fly across this nation of 50 million people about Mandela’s health.
On Saturday, the South African National Editors’ Forum issued a statement criticizing the government for not being straightforward with journalists about Mandela’s hospitalization. The forum said that journalists had been working with the government to set up guidelines on how to handle covering Mandela in his waning years, though state officials ultimately declined to sign off on the agreement.
"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 organizations," the statement read. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
The editor’s forum includes members from newspapers, television broadcasters and radio stations in South Africa, as well as the Foreign Correspondents Association of Southern Africa.
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 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.
The Nobel laureate had an acute respiratory infection in January 2011. Following the chaos that surrounded Mandela’s stay at a public hospital then, the South African military took charge of his care and the government took over control of the information about his health.
South Africa reveres the aged leader for being the nation’s first democratically elected president who sought to bring the country together after centuries of racial division.
Mandela largely retired from public life after serving one five-year term as president and has largely lived a private life since. He last made a public appearance when his country hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament. Mandela has also grown more frail in recent years, with his grip on politics in the nation ever slackening.
South African National Editors’ Forum: www.sanef.org.za
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .