JOHANNESBURG – Former South African leader Nelson Mandela looks "much better" after medical treatment and doctors are pleased with his progress, President Jacob Zuma said after visiting the anti-apartheid icon in a hospital on Christmas Day.
Zuma joined Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and other family members in wishing a Merry Christmas to Mandela at his bedside, according to the president's office.
"We found him in good spirits," Zuma said in a statement. "He shouted my clan name, Nxamalala, as I walked into the ward! He was happy to have visitors on this special day and is looking much better. The doctors are happy with the progress that he is making."
Mandela was admitted Dec. 8 to a hospital in Pretoria, the South African capital. He was diagnosed with a lung infection and also had a procedure to remove gallstones. Officials have previously said Mandela was improving, but note doctors are taking extraordinary care because he is 94 years old.
Zuma said Mandela's family appreciates the support it has received from the public.
"That is what keeps them going at this difficult time," he said.
Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years under apartheid, the system of white minority rule that was eventually dismantled, opening the way to South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. Mandela, a Nobel laureate, served one five-year term as president before retiring.
He was brought to the Pretoria hospital from his home in Qunu, a rural village in Eastern Cape province where Mandela lived as a child.
In the Johannesburg township of Soweto, worshippers offered prayers for Mandela while attending Christmas Mass at Regina Mundi, a Catholic church that was a stronghold of anti-government sentiment during the apartheid years.
Some expressed disappointment that Mandela wasn't well enough to return home for the holiday.
"We wish him a Merry Christmas," Ivy Mncube said outside the church. "We wish him well for all the days that are left for him."