According to his former wife Winnie, Nelson Mandela remains quite ill. Tubes used to clear his lungs and prevent infection make it impossible for the civil rights leader to speak, and he uses his face to communicate.

He remains sensitive to any germs and has to literally be kept sterile. 

From CNN:

“He communicates with the face, you see,” Madikizela-Mandela told the newspaper. “But the doctors have told us they hope to recover his voice.” On September 1, the renowned leader was discharged from a Pretoria hospital where he had been receiving treatment since June, the South African president’s office said Sunday. The frail icon has not appeared in public for years, but he retains his popularity as the father of democracy and emblem of the nation’s fight against apartheid.

Read more at CNN

The 95-year-old icon has a history of lung problems that date back to his imprisonment on Robben Island. He has battled respiratory infections since then.

Mandela became an international figure while enduring 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid, the country’s system of racial segregation. He became the nation’s first black president in 1994, four years after he was freed from prison.

May Mandela be graced with a swift, healthy recovery.