South Africa remains anxious over the health of former President Nelson Mandela, who has “responded positively” to treatment for a lung infection during his third hospital visit in the last four months.
The civil rights icon spent almost three weeks in hospital in December. Though an overnight checkup went well earlier this month, he has again returned to seek treatment for the recurring ailment. At 94, Mandela has been out of the public eye for almost a decade, but is still revered as the country’s first black president.
Speaking to the BBC, President Jacob Zuma said that the South African public needs to come to terms with the leader’s age, but confirmed that Mandela is “responding positively” to his treatment. Still, he suggested that the country must be prepared for the anti-apartheid hero’s passing.
“Of course I have been saying to people, you should bear in mind Madiba is no longer that young and if he goes for check-ups every now and again, I don’t think people must be alarmed about it. I would like to really say the country must not panic,” Zuma said.
“In Zulu, when someone passes away who is very old, people say he or she has gone home. I think those are some of the things we should be thinking about,” he added.
Mandela’s December hospital stay was his longest since being released from prison in 1990. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is a symbol of the country’s “golden period,” which began in 1994 with the end of apartheid and his election.
Though South Africa enjoys the continent’s strongest economy, it continues to struggle with human rights issues ranging from violence against women to worker compensation. Many South African citizens attribute the prevalence of these issues to Mandela’s withdrawal from politics.