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Mandela hospitalized again for lung infection

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 9:09 p.m.

JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela has been hospitalized again for a worrying recurrence of the lung infection he suffered in December, the South African president's office announced on Thursday.

It was the third time Mandela, known affectionately by his clan name, Madiba, has been hospitalized since December. The unexpected late-night admission rang alarm bells for many South Africans.

South Africa's first black president, who served from 1994 to 1999, went into an unidentified hospital in Pretoria just before midnight Wednesday. His wife, Graca Machel, was reportedly at his side, and he was being made comfortable, according to officials.

Every time Mandela is hospitalized, South Africa holds its collective breath. The former president is deeply loved for his role in fighting apartheid and bringing the full rights of citizenship to blacks. Even more, he's revered for fostering peace and reconciliation in South Africa after his release from jail, at a time when doomsayers were predicting the country could plunge into civil war.

South African presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said Mandela, 94, was conscious and “responding positively” to treatment for a lung infection that had spread rapidly. He did not comment on the gravity of the former president's condition.

“He remains under treatment and observation in hospital,” Maharaj said in a statement. “Doctors are attending to him, ensuring that he has the best possible expert medical treatment and comfort.”

Mandela has had a history of respiratory problems since he suffered tuberculosis in 1988 while serving time in the notorious prison on Robben Island.

Mandela spent nearly three weeks in the hospital in December for a severe lung infection and had a gallstone operation.

It was the longest period he had spent in a hospital since his release from prison in 1990.

At the time, South African officials misled the media and public about the seriousness of his illness and which hospital he was in.

Earlier this month, he spent a night in a hospital for tests that officials said were routine.

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