A stone painted with a get-well message and left outside former South African… (Carl de Souza / Agence France-Presse…)
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The health of former South African President Nelson Mandela has improved, according to South African officials who said he is in much better shape than he was a week ago when he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.
“President Nelson Mandela continues to make steady improvement in hospital,” said a statement by Mac Maharaj, spokesman for President Jacob Zuma. “His doctors say he continues to respond satisfactorily to treatment and is much better now than he was when he was admitted to hospital."
It is the third time that Mandela, know affectionately by South Africans by his clan name, Madiba, has been hospitalized since December, when he spent nearly three weeks in the hospital with pneumonia. He also underwent a gallstone operation.
TIMELINE: Nelson Mandela's remarkable life
Mandela's hospitalization raised concerns across South Africa, and Wednesday’s statement came as a relief after the presidency had not issued an update on the former president’s health the previous day.
Zuma is currently in Chad for a meeting of heads of government of Central African states.
With the 94-year-old former president increasingly frail, South African authorities have tended to downplay Mandela’s health crises. In December authorities didn’t admit the anti-apartheid hero had been severely ill until after he was out of danger. This time, it took several days for officials to indirectly concede that Mandela had been experiencing difficulty breathing when he went into the hospital last week.
Mandela had fluid drained from around his lung in recent days after developing pneumonia.
In 1988, during his 27-year prison term, Mandela contracted a severe case of tuberculosis and he has suffered repeated respiratory difficulties in recent years.
The presidency said Mandela was visited by members of his family Wednesday. It is not clear how much longer he will remain in the hospital.
Mandela withdrew from public life almost a decade ago and plays no day-to-day role in the politics of the ruling African National Congress nor in the government. But he remains an enormously important symbol of peace and cohesion in a country still affected by by racial tensions and violent crime.
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