Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, has visited Nelson Mandela in hospital and said he is recovering.

Mandela, the first black South African president, has been in hospital since tests revealed he had a recurring lung infection and gall stones.

"We urge South Africans to continue praying for our beloved Madiba during this period"

- Jacob Zuma,
President of South Africa

Zuma urged South Africans to keep praying for the revered 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero and elder statesman.

"He continues to respond to treatment," Zuma said on Saturday.

"We urge South Africans to continue praying for our beloved Madiba during this period. Our hearts are with the whole family and relatives," Zuma said in a statement, using Mandela's clan name.

Zuma's spokesperson Mac Maharaj, who was jailed with Mandela on Robben Island, declined to give details about the visit, saying "the focus should be on his health".

Mandela was admitted to a hospital in the capital Pretoria on December 8, after being flown from his rural home in south of the country.

On December 15 he underwent successful surgery to have gall stones removed, following an outpouring of well wishes from citizens.

Lung problems 

On Thursday Zuma described his condition as serious but improving.

Maharaj could not say when Mandela was likely to be discharged from hospital.

Mandela was admitted to a hospital in the
capital Pretoria on December 8 [GALLO/GETTY]

The Nobel peace laureate has a long history of lung problems dating back decades to when he contracted tuberculosis while in jail as a political prisoner.

This is the longest time Mandela has spent in hospital since being released from prison in 1990 after 27 years.

He was previously hospitalised for an acute respiratory infection in January 2011, when he was kept as an inpatient for two nights.

Mandela became South Africa's president after the country's first all-race elections in 1994 and stepped down after serving just one term. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with FW De Klerk, his predecessor and the last apartheid-era president.

News of Mandela's hospitalisation always cause a national panic, as little information is released to the public about his health.

His last public appearance was in 2010 during the closing ceremony of the FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg, where he was wheeled into the stadium in a golf cart.

He officially retired from public life in 2004.

Source: Agencies