Updated Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 11:30 AM
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Where is Nelson Mandela?
As the patriarch of South Africa’s democracy entered his seventh day of hospitalization Friday for a recurring lung infection, confusion grew as government officials appeared to contradict themselves over where he is being treated.
With the government refusing to say where Mandela, 94, is, concern grew across this nation of 50 million people about the health of the anti-apartheid icon.
Mandela, admitted last Saturday to a hospital, was thought to have been at 1 Military Hospital near South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, after Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she visited the leader there Monday. But when local media reported that Mandela wasn’t at that hospital Thursday night, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj declined to give Mandela’s whereabouts.
“President Mandela is being treated at a Pretoria hospital as said from the first statement we issued,” Maharaj said. “We have refrained from disclosing the hospital in order to ensure privacy and also to allow doctors space to do their work of caring for (him) without interruptions or undue pressure.”
It was not clear if Mandela had been moved or if he had been at a different facility during his entire hospitalization, his longest since 2001, when he underwent radiation therapy after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Addressing journalists after her visit, Mapisa-Nqakula said Monday: “We confirm that former President Mandela is in (the) hospital, 1 Military Hospital, and he’s doing very, very well.”
Sonwabo Mbananga, a defense-department spokesman, said Friday that “the minister is not going to clarify anything” about her remarks Monday and declined to comment further.
On Friday, journalists saw a convoy of security cars and an ambulance leave a private Pretoria hospital and later arrive at 1 Military Hospital. However, it could not be determined if the convoy had anything to do with Mandela’s care.
Later Friday, Maharaj again declined to identify which hospital Mandela was staying at, saying officials are “trying to protect his privacy.” When asked about the defense minister’s comments, Maharaj said the presidency had been consistent in avoiding identifying the hospital and declined to comment further.
Mandela “has been comfortable the past 24 hours and continues to receive care,” Maharaj said.
South Africa’s government has said Mandela, initially admitted for medical tests, was being treated for a lung infection. He has a history of lung problems, after falling ill with tuberculosis in 1988 toward the end of his 27 years in prison and being elected president. While doctors said at the time the disease caused no permanent damage, medical experts say tuberculosis can cause problems years later for those infected.