June 2010 file photo of Nelson Mandela in Sandton. (Siphiwe Sibeko )
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa-- South Africa's Nelson Mandela, who was spending Christmas in the hospital recovering from serious illness, was in good spirits and looking much better, President Jacob Zuma said Tuesday.
He said Mandela immediately greeted him, shouting out Zuma's clan name, Nxamalala.
Zuma visited Mandela, along with Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and other members of the Mandela family.
“We found him in good spirits. He shouted my clan name, Nxamalala, as I walked into the ward!" Zuma said in a written statement Tuesday. "He was happy to have visitors on this special day and is looking much better."
Mandela, South Africa's first black president, was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 8 for a lung infection and later underwent surgery for gallstones. South African authorities last week said his condition was serious on admission.
But Zuma said Tuesday that doctors were happy with Mandela's progress. Zuma thanked the public for its support and prayers.
“The Mandela family truly appreciates all the support they are receiving from the public. That is what keeps them going at this difficult time," Zuma said.
There is no indication when Mandela might be released from the hospital. It is his longest stint in a hospital since his release from jail almost two decades ago.
When in jail, Mandela contracted tuberculosis and has had lung problems since. In January last year, he suffered an acute respiratory problem.
His frail health is a matter of great anxiety for South Africans, who revere him not only for his role in fighting apartheid but for his determination to cement peace and avoid civil warfare.
Mandela's grandson, Mandla Mandela, told South African television Tuesday that the family missed having him home for Christmas. The family invited dozens of children to a Christmas feast in Mveso, a tradition that Mandela launched after his release from prison.
South African authorities are keeping the name of the private hospital where Mandela is being treated a secret and the names of the doctors treating him are also confidential.
Mandela became president after the country's first democratic elections in 1994 and served one term. In recent years he has retired to Qunu and has rarely been seen in public. His last appearance was in 2010 when South Africa hosted the soccer World Cup.
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