Updated Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 06:16 PM
JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela, South Africa's ailing former president, underwent a successful surgery to remove gallstones Saturday, the government said.
Doctors treating the anti-apartheid icon waited to perform the endoscopic surgery as they wanted to first attend to a lung ailment, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said. Mandela, 94, has been hospitalized since Dec. 8 because of the lung ailment.
In the procedure, a patient usually receives sedatives and an anesthetic to allow a surgeon to put an endoscope down the throat, authorities said. The surgeon then can remove the gallstones, which are small, crystal-like masses that can cause a person tremendous pain.
"The procedure was successful and Madiba is recovering," Maharaj said, using Mandela's clan name as many do in South Africa as a sign of affection.
Occasionally, a patient who undergoes the same medical procedure Mandela just had may need to have an additional surgery to have the gallbladder removed, according to medical experts. However, Maharaj's statement offered no details about what additional care Mandela may require, nor did it suggest when he could be released from the hospital.
Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president, was admitted last week to a hospital in South Africa's capital, Pretoria, the government has said. At first, officials said Mandela was undergoing tests and later they acknowledged he had been diagnosed with a lung infection.
After the chaos that surrounded Mandela's stay at a public hospital in 2011, the South African military took charge of his care and the government took over control of the information about his health. However, public worries over Mandela have grown as government officials contradicted themselves in recent days about Mandela's location, raising questions about who is treating him.
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 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.
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 largely retired from public life after serving one five-year term. He last made a public appearance when his country hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.
He has also grown more frail in recent years, with his grip on politics in the nation ever slackening.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela.