JOHANNESBURG Former South African president and anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, who is 94, continues to respond to treatment two weeks after being taken to hospital, the government said on Saturday.
The Nobel Peace laureate, who has been treated for a lung infection and gallstones after being hospitalised on December 8, was visited by South African President Jacob Zuma, presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.
"Madiba has been in hospital since the 8th of December and continues to respond to treatment," Maharaj said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
"President Zuma assured him of the love and support of all South Africans, young and old, and the whole world."
The country's first black president was admitted to hospital in Pretoria earlier this month after being flown from his home village of Qunu in a remote part of the Eastern Cape province.
It seems likely that Mandela, admired at home and abroad as a global icon against injustice for his lifetime of struggle against minority white rule, will end up spending Christmas in the hospital.
On Thursday, following his re-election as leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Zuma reported Mandela had "steadily improved".
Zuma said then the former president was receiving "the best care possible" but recalled that Mandela was "at an age where medical challenges require extraordinary care".
He praised Mandela as an "unparalleled fighter".
In an interview broadcast on Saturday but recorded a day earlier, the ANC's newly elected Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said he believed Mandela was "on the mend".
Mandela spent 27 years in apartheid prisons, including 18 years on the windswept Robben Island off Cape Town. He was released in 1990 and went on to use his prestige to push for reconciliation between whites and blacks as the bedrock of the post-apartheid "Rainbow Nation".
He stepped down in 1999 after one term in office and has been largely removed from public life for the last decade.
Mandela spent time in a Johannesburg hospital in 2011 with a respiratory condition, and again in February this year because of abdominal pains. He was released the following day after a keyhole examination showed there was nothing serious.
He has since spent most of his time in Qunu.
His fragile health prevents him from making any public appearances in South Africa, although he has continued to receive high-profile domestic and international visitors, including former U.S. president Bill Clinton in July.
(Reporting by David Dolan; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)