Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela Saturday morning underwent endoscopic surgery to have gall stones removed, President Jacob Zuma's office has said in a statement. The procedure was successful and Mandela, who has been hospitalized since last weekend due to a recurring lung infection, is recovering, the statement said.
Mandela, who is 94, was admitted to hospital last Saturday after suffering a recurrence of a lung infection.
Tests revealed the presence of gallstones and doctors treating Mr. Mandela decided to remove them once he had recovered from the infection.
The statement claimed: "This morning, 15 December 2012, the former president underwent a procedure via endoscopy to have the gall stones removed. The procedure was successful and (Mr Mandela) is recovering."
A gallstone is an accumulation of crystals in the gall bladder. If left untreated, it can become life-threatening because of the risks of secondary infections such as pancreatitis.
Nelson Mandela has spent a fifth day in a South African military facility, marking his longest spell in hospital for over a decade.
But this has become the longest continuous period Mr Mandela has spent in hospital since 2001, when he underwent seven weeks of radiotherapy after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
In January last year, the former president spent two nights at a Johannesburg hospital, apparently for the same lung condition that is now troubling him. In February, he was hospitalised for one night after complaining of abdominal pain.
Mr Mandela's state of health is being closely watched in South Africa and around the world. The government has carefully controlled the flow of information, ensuring that he is cared for in a military hospital and releasing nothing aside from brief daily updates on his condition.
Mandela has not appeared in public since the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa. The former president gets round-the-clock care since abdominal surgery this year and an acute respiratory infection in 2011.
Immortalising an Icon
Just last month, South Africa launched a new batch of banknotes with a picture of a smiling Mandela on the front. The new 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 rand banknotes all feature pictures of the global icon. Mr Mandela is regarded by most South Africans as the father of the nation, having inspired them to fight for democracy.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate had spent 27 years in prison for fighting against oppression of blacks by a white minority in South Africa. He became the nation's first black president in 1994, four years after he was freed from prison.
Despite his rare appearances, Mandela retains his popularity and is considered a hero of democracy in the nation. On Thursday, President Jacob Zuma unveiled a new statue of Mandela in the city of Bloemfontein. A total of 94 white doves were released skywards, signifying the life and times of Nelson Mandela. Zuma released an additional six doves to mark the centenary celebrations of the ANC.
The 8m-tall statue of Mandela, which has a clenched fist in the air, faces in the direction of the Waaihoek Methodist Church, where the ANC was founded 100 years ago. The statue is on the top of Naval Hill.
Zuma said Mandela's statue was a tribute to the tortuous path that South Africans had travelled from oppression, through the Struggle for liberation, to democracy in 1994.
"It should, true to Madiba's values, forever be a symbol of our reconciliation and tolerance as a nation. It is also part of efforts to build new symbols of our democratic nation, symbols that make it possible for us as South Africans to celebrate our diversity, our common heritage and our shared future," said Zuma. Mandela's family members did not attend the event as they were at his side in the hospital.
Zuma described Mandela as a selfless, humble and principled leader.
"Up to this day, we continue to draw lessons from the life of Tata Mandela and his conduct and dedication to our struggle for national liberation," he said.
Zuma, who seeks re-election at the ANC's conference that starts today in Mangaung, said Mandela's statue was a reminder of the founding of the ANC in 1912.