Hospital officials for the first time Saturday acknowledged that black rebel leader Nelson Mandela had tuberculosis as signals grew that the ailing 70-year-old nationalist would soon be released from a life sentence in prison.

Information Minister Stoffel van der Merwe said Saturday that Mandela had been punished enough since his 1964 conviction on sabotage charges, while a pro-government newspaper reported growing support for the African National Congress leader's release after 26 years in jail.