South Africa's Mandela improving, visited by Zuma

JOHANNESBURG Thu Apr 4, 2013 10:14am EDT

Former South African president Nelson Mandela looks on as he celebrates his birthday at his house in Qunu, Eastern Cape July 18, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Former South African president Nelson Mandela looks on as he celebrates his birthday at his house in Qunu, Eastern Cape July 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Former South African president Nelson Mandela, 94, received a visit in hospital from current leader Jacob Zuma on Thursday, who said the anti-apartheid hero was making "continuous improvement" under treatment for pneumonia.

"Madiba is stable and we are thankful that he is responding well to treatment and that he is much better," Zuma said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.

Mandela has spent just over a week in hospital. This is the third health scare in four months for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and was hailed as a global symbol of tolerance and harmony.

He was in hospital briefly in early March for a check-up and was hospitalized in December for nearly three weeks with a lung infection and after surgery to remove gallstones.

Mandela stepped down as president in 1999 and has not been politically active for a decade. But he is still revered at home and abroad for leading the struggle against apartheid rule and then championing racial reconciliation while in office.

Mandela has a history of lung problems dating back to when he contracted tuberculosis as a political prisoner. He spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island and in other jails for his attempts to overthrow the white-minority government.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Ed Cropley)