JOHANNESBURG - As Nelson Mandela remains hospitalized after undergoing surgery and recuperating from a lung infection, the 94-year-old anti-apartheid leader missed the return of his grandson from an initiation ceremony.
Bambatha Mandela had been in the bush for days for the ukwaluka ceremony of Mandela's Xhosa people, learning about the culture and ultimately undergoing a circumcision carried out by a traditional surgeon. Footage shot by AP Television News on Sunday showed the 23-year-old grandson of the struggle icon wrapped in a blanket, his face painted red, returning to their family homestead in Qunu, in South Africa's Eastern Cape.
Men and women awaited Bambatha Mandela with meat from a freshly slaughtered sheep. Some women sang traditional songs, others laughed and called out to their friends.
Family members had hoped Nelson Mandela would be home for the ceremony, but government officials say Mandela remains under care at a hospital in South Africa's capital, Pretoria. Mandela, imprisoned for 27 years by South Africa's former white-ruled government, always lamented the fact he was unable to visit and stay in touch with his family.
Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president, was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 8, the government has said. At first, officials said he was undergoing tests and later they acknowledged he had been diagnosed with a lung infection.
The Nobel laureate has a history of lung problems, after falling ill with tuberculosis in 1988 toward the tail-end of his years in prison before his release and subsequent presidency. While doctors said at the time the disease caused no permanent damage to his lungs, medical experts say tuberculosis can cause problems years later for those infected.
On Saturday, Mandela underwent endoscopic surgery to remove gallstones, a procedure in which a patient usually receives sedatives and an anesthetic to allow a surgeon to put an endoscope down their throat, authorities say. The surgeon then can remove the gallstones, which are small, crystal-like masses that can cause a person tremendous pain.
Mandela's 10-day hospital stay, his longest since leaving prison in February 1990, has sparked increasing concern about a man who represents the aspirations of a country still struggling with race and poverty. South Africa, a nation of 50 million people, reveres Mandela for his magnanimity and being able to bridge racial gaps after centuries of white racist rule.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP .