Mandela 'continues to improve': Zuma

Johannes Myburgh

Nelson Mandela's health is improving, President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday after paying the ailing anti-apartheid icon a visit in hospital, where he is being treated for a recurrent lung infection.

"Madiba's health continues to improve but his condition remains serious," said Zuma in a statement, using the clan name by which the 94-year-old hero of the struggle against white-minority rule is affectionately known in South Africa.

"We continue to appeal to people to keep Madiba in their prayers and wish him a speedy recovery," he said.

Mandela, South Africa's first black president, was admitted to hospital in the capital Pretoria in the early hours of Saturday for a pulmonary condition that has plagued him for years.

Zuma had told the country on Wednesday that the frail elder statesman was responding better to treatment after "a difficult last few days".

It is Mandela's fourth hospital stay since December, leading to a growing acceptance that the much-loved father of the "Rainbow Nation" may be nearing the end of his life.

Despite the more positive assessment of Mandela's condition, previously described by the government as "serious but stable", concerns remained among South Africans.

"I don't trust the information that I'm hearing because they say he's in a stable condition but a bad condition," said Anele Ndabeni, 28, a resident of the town of Mthatha in the Eastern Cape province close to Mandela's rural home village of Qunu.

"They should tell the public and stop hiding what they're saying. I think there's something bad, but I'm not sure what it is."

Another resident of Mthatha, Retselisitsoe Thethe, 29, said he felt Mandela should be allowed to die in peace.

"They should just let him naturally die. They are keeping him alive but his body is tired," he told AFP.

"His spirit says yes, but his body you know is dead," he said. "It's time now. We would really appreciate to let him rest in peace."

Members of Mandela's family, known for frequent internal feuding, have been visiting him regularly in a public display of unity.

On Thursday his youngest daughter, Zindzi, visited him briefly.

His wife, Graca Machel, has been at his bedside almost constantly since calling off a trip to London last week.

His eldest daughter, Zenani, who is South Africa's ambassador to Argentina, as well as his daughter Makaziwe and his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela have visited him almost daily.

The family said on Wednesday it was "deeply touched" by the worldwide support for the man considered one of the greatest figures of the 20th century.

As an anti-apartheid revolutionary, Mandela spent 27 years in prison during white racist rule, walking free in 1990 before becoming South Africa's first black president four years later.

He has a long history of lung problems since being diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988 while in prison.

Friends have spoken of his failing memory, a far cry from the sharp-witted dancing statesman celebrated all over the world.

In December he underwent surgery to remove gallstones as he recovered from a lung infection. Then in March he was admitted for a scheduled overnight check-up.

Two months ago he was discharged after treatment for pneumonia.

Mandela, who turns 95 next month, has not appeared in public since the World Cup final in South Africa in July 2010.

He looked frail and distant in a much-criticised April video showing Zuma and other members of the ruling African National Congress visiting him at his Johannesburg home.