• Graca Machel told a South African television news channel that it was painful to see her 94-year-old husband, who was hospitalised on Saturday, ‘fading’
• Not divulged why Mr Mandela had to be flown over 500 miles from his rural home to undergo the urgent medical tests
• Official message: Mr Mandela is ‘doing very, very well’
Nelson Mandela’s trademark ‘spirit and sparkle’ is waning, his wife warned today as it emerged he is battling a recurring lung infection.
Graca Machel told a South African television news channel that it was painful to see her 94-year-old husband, who was hospitalised on Saturday, ‘fading.’
‘I mean, this spirit and this sparkle, you see that somehow it’s fading,’ she told eNews Central Africa.
To see him aging, it’s something also which pains you. You understand and you know it has to happen’, she said.
Mr Mandela’s grand-daughter Ndileka told the same news channel that the anti-apartheid icon has come to accept his condition.
‘He has come to accept that it’s part of growing old, and it’s part of humanity as such’, she said.
‘At some point you will dependent on someone else, he has come to embrace it’.
The pair’s comments are the first official remarks by his family since the former President was rushed to hospital on Saturday.
Mr Mandela was admitted to a military hospital on Saturday for treatment but it was not until today that doctors revealed his condition.
The anti-apartheid leader is particularly susceptible to the ailment because of his age and his 27 years in prison though medics say he is responding well to treatment.
He fought off a similar infection in 2011 and once contracted tuberculosis while imprisoned.
Medical experts say respiratory illnesses like pneumonia striking a man his age are a serious matter that require care and monitoring.
The announcement ended speculation about what was troubling the ailing leader. His ongoing hospitalisation has caused growing concern in South Africa, a nation of 50 million people that largely reveres him for being the nation’s first democratically elected president who sought to bring the country together after centuries of racial division.
The tests Mr Mandela underwent at 1 Military Hospital near South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, detected the lung infection, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.
‘Madiba is receiving appropriate treatment and he is responding to the treatment,’ Maharaj said, referring to Mr Mandela by his clan name as many do in South Africa in a sign of affection.
In January 2011, Mr Mandela was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for what officials initially described as tests but what turned out to be an acute respiratory infection.
The chaos that followed his stay at that public hospital, with journalists and the curious surrounding it and entering wards, saw the South African military take charge of his care and the government control the information about his health.
In recent days many in the press and public have complained about the lack of concrete details that the government has released about the former president’s condition.
They had not divulged why he had been flown over 500 miles from his rural home to undergo the urgent tests prompting many to fear the worst.
Over the weekend the South African Sunday Times newspaper quoted a source as saying ‘he has not been talking. He is not looking good’.
Yesterday, the country’s defence minister visited the Nobel Peace Prize winner at the Pretoria military hospital in which he is being treated.
Afterwards Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula echoed the official, placatory message, telling reporters that Mr Mandela was ‘doing very, very well’.
She added: ‘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.’
Yesterday afternoon the office of President Jacob Zuma said that Mr Mandela ‘had a good night’s rest.
The doctors will still conduct further tests today. He is in good hands.’
Mr Mandela has a history with lung problems. He fell ill with tuberculosis in 1988 toward the tail-end of his prison years, after he had been moved from the notorious Robben Island and to another jail to ease the apartheid government’s efforts to negotiate with him about a possible release.
At first, doctors were uncertain why he had a persistent cough that ultimately caused him to collapse during a meeting with his lawyer.
After being taken to a Cape Town hospital, a doctor told him he had water in his lungs.
Mr Mandela initially refused to believe the doctor, he wrote in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.
‘With a hint of annoyance, (the doctor) said, “Mandela, take a look at your chest,”’ Mr Mandela recounted. ‘He pointed out that one side of my chest was actually larger than the other.’
Surgeons immediately cut into his chest and removed two litres (half a gallon) of liquid from his lungs, which tested positive for tuberculosis.
Doctors at the time suggested Mr Mandela contracted the disease from his damp prison cell.
About 1.4 million people worldwide die each year from tuberculosis, a bacterial infection which can stay dormant for years. It also can cause permanent lung damage, though in his autobiography Mr Mandela says doctors caught it in time.
However, tuberculosis can return to trouble those previously infected, properly treated or not, and previous damage could have been missed, Openshaw said.
Openshaw, who has not seen Mr Mandela’s medical records and spoke generally about treating patients, said pneumonia is the most likely respiratory illness to affect an elderly person, though others can strike as well.
Doctors typically use antibiotics to treat such infections, though there needed to be care made in deciding how much of a dose to give an older patient.
And there’s the challenge of treating a patient that a nation and many around the world remain anxiously worried about.
‘It’s particularly difficult if it’s in a special patient, where you really have to be very careful to try not to overreact, but just to treat them as if they were any other patient,’ Openshaw said.
But the doctor later acknowledged the obvious: ;It’s very hard to the balance right (for) a special, special patient.’
Mr Mandela was a leader in the struggle against racist white rule in South Africa and once he emerged from 27 years in prison in 1990, he won worldwide acclaim for urging reconciliation.
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 when his country hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.
Mr Mandela disengaged himself from the country’s politics over the last decade but continued campaigning against AIDS. He has grown increasing frail in recent years.
He went seven weeks of radiation therapy for prostate cancer in 2001, ultimately beating the disease.
In February he underwent minor surgery to
determine the cause of abdominal pain. Mr Mandela’s last foreign visitor is believed to have been US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had lunch with him and his wife, Graca Machel, at their Qunu home in August.
In 2011 Mr Mandela’s close friend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu described him as being ‘frail’.
The churchman said: ‘We want him to remain forever, but you know… anything can happen.’