Former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was hospitalized on this day in 2013 at a Pretoria hospital for what officials said was only a routine checkup.
That was barely two months after he was discharged from the hospital after recovering from a lung infection and gallstone surgery. At the time, officials said he would gradually return to his normal routine.
Although the South African government used soothing language to explain why the then 94-year-old had to be hospitalized again, the world was living on edge, as his previous stays in the hospital had turned out to be the result of serious health conditions.
Due to ill health, Mandela hadn’t appeared in public since 2010. He continued receiving treatment at his Houghton home in Johannesburg.
The intense privacy surrounding his health didn’t help matters. While it reflected the official reverence South Africans had for one of the greatest unifying figures of the 20th century, it also gave credence to suspicions that the great man had reached his end.
Nine months later, on December 5, 2013, he did indeed finally give way to death.
The demise of the man who helped tear down one of history’s most egregious systems of racial injustice and transition into a peaceful democracy raised fears, especially among white South Africans, that the country might be plunged into chaos with his passing. But two years later, life in South Africa continues as normal.