JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Former South African President Nelson Mandela was hospitalized Saturday with a stomach ailment, according to a government statement issued about the 93-year-old beloved anti-apartheid icon.
Mandela "has had a long-standing abdominal complaint and doctors feel it needs proper specialist medical attention," President Jacob Zuma said, asking that Mandela's privacy be respected.
The statement did not say at which hospital Mandela was being treated. In 2011, he was hospitalized for a few days with an acute respiratory infection.
Mac Maharaj, Zuma's spokesman, said he could not immediately elaborate but that he would be issuing regular updates. The South African military, which had taken charge of Mandela's health care after he was hospitalized last year, and a spokesman for Mandela's office said he would have no statement Saturday.
Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994 after spending 27 years in prison for his fight against racist apartheid rule, and he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
Well-wishers like Derek Kemper, a 47-year-old emergency services consultant, said they hoped Mandela would soon recover.
Kemper said he fought Mandela's African National Congress, now the country's governing party, as a soldier for the apartheid state. On Saturday, he was touring Soweto, the famed Johannesburg township set aside for blacks under apartheid and still largely black and poor, with a group of other whites. Kemper marveled at how far the country had come, and credited Mandela.
"He had the wisdom to try to reunite the country." Kemper said, speaking in front of a Soweto home where Mandela once lived that has been turned into a museum celebrating Mandela's life.
Kemper said he believed that even though Mandela has largely retired from public life, he has a moderating influence on younger black South Africans who may be impatient with the pace of change in their country. Kemper said he worried about whether the commitment to reconciliation would outlive Mandela.
But Kefiloe Molepo, a 19-year-old student who grew up just around the corner from Mandela's home, said there was little cause for concern. Molepo, walking home from church, said he was raised on stories about Mandela, who he said was a friend of his great-grandfather.
"When he was set free, he didn't think of vengeance," Molepo said. "He wanted peace for the nation."
Mandela's public appearances have become increasingly rare, though he did appear at the closing ceremony of the World Cup in July 2010. Mandela also held a private meeting with Michelle Obama when the U.S. first lady traveled to South Africa with her daughters last year.
Mandela has taken up permanent residence at his home in Qunu, in the southwestern region of South Africa where he was raised. Earlier this year, Mandela came to his Johannesburg home for what Zuma's office said would be a brief stay while maintenance was done at his Qunu home. Zuma's office said then that Mandela was in good health.
Mandela's last surviving sibling, a sister, died last month near Qunu. Makhulu Nothusile Bhulehluthi was 82. Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, their father, had several wives and 31 children.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Peter Dejong, file)