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Spokesman: Ambulance rushing Mandela to hospital broke down

Story highlights

  • Despite the incident, Mandela's health was not compromised, spokesman says
  • Mandela is in a serious but stable condition in the hospital, government says
  • He has been hospitalized since June 8 for a recurring lung infection

An ambulance that rushed former South African President Nelson Mandela to hospital two weeks ago broke down on the way there, but the anti-apartheid icon's health was not compromised, a government spokesman said Saturday.

Mandela has been hospitalized in serious but stable condition in Pretoria since June 8 for a recurring lung infection.

"When the ambulance experienced engine problems, it was decided that it would be best to transfer to another military ambulance which itself was accompanied for the rest of the journey by a civilian ambulance," spokesman Mac Maharaj said.

South Africa's first black president gets round-the-clock care, and his house is retrofitted with medical equipment that mirrors that of an intensive care unit.

The military ambulance he used at the time is fully-equipped and includes intensive care specialists and nurses, and two quick response vehicles, according to the spokesman.

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"All care was taken to ensure that the former President Mandela's medical condition was not compromised by the unforeseen incident," Maharaj said.

    Mandela, 94, has become increasingly frail over the years and has not appeared in public since South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010.

    Despite his rare public appearances, news of his ailment sparks concerns worldwide.

    "I think the concern, the anxiety shown by people throughout the world and South Africa is perfectly understandable," Maharaj said this month. "The most important thing is that we should realize that this is a life that we need to celebrate, even when he's with us. And we will celebrate it, even when he is not with us."

    Mandela has been in and out of hospital in recent years.

    His history of lung problems dates to when he was a political prisoner on Robben Island during the apartheid era, and he has battled respiratory infections over the years.

    Last year, he spent the Christmas holidays undergoing treatment for a lung infection and gallstones, one of his longest hospital stays since his release from prison in 1990.

    Considered the founding father of South Africa's democracy, Mandela became an international figure while enduring 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid, the country's system of racial segregation.

    In 1993, Mandela and then-South African President F.W. de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.

    The iconic leader was elected the nation's first black president a year later, serving only one term, as he had promised.

    Even as he has faded from the spotlight, he retains his popularity and is considered a hero of democracy in the nation. Last year, South Africa launched a new batch of banknotes with a picture of a smiling Mandela on the front.

    Mandela's impact extends far beyond South African borders. After he left office, he mediated conflicts from Africa to the Middle East.

    He turns 95 next month.