Mandela making 'slow but steady' improvement, government says

JOHANNESBURG Sun Aug 11, 2013 9:07am EDT

A child holds up balloons with images of former South African President Nelson Mandela as he participates in a celebration to mark Mandela's 95th birthday at the Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City July 18, 2013. REUTERS/Henry Romero

A child holds up balloons with images of former South African President Nelson Mandela as he participates in a celebration to mark Mandela's 95th birthday at the Angel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City July 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Henry Romero

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Former South African President Nelson Mandela's health is slowly recovering but he remains in a critical condition, the government said on Sunday, in its first update on his health in nearly two weeks.

The 95-year-old anti-apartheid leader has been in a Pretoria hospital for two months for treatment of a recurrent lung infection.

"The former president is making a slow but steady improvement," South Africa's Presidency said in a statement, adding Mandela still remained in a critical condition.

Mandela's youngest daughter told state broadcaster SABC on Friday that her father's health was improving daily and he was able to sit up for minutes at a time.

Mandela became South Africa's first democratically elected president in all-race elections in 1994 that marked the end of the apartheid system.

Mandela spent 27 years in prison under white minority rule, including 18 years at the notorious Robben Island penal colony. His lung infection dates back to his time on the windswept island, where he and other prisoners were forced to work in a limestone quarry.

(Reporting by David Dolan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)