Mandela is improving, S. Africa government says

Nelson Mandela is pictured at his home in Qunu, Eastern Cape on July 17, 2012, the eve of his 94th birthday.  By Barbara Kinney (CLINTON FOUNDATION/AFP/File)

Nelson Mandela is pictured at his home in Qunu, Eastern Cape on July 17, 2012, the eve of his 94th birthday. By Barbara Kinney (CLINTON FOUNDATION/AFP/File)

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Nelson Mandela’s condition has improved further, the South African government said as the ailing anti-apartheid icon spent his fifth day in hospital on Monday receiving treatment for a recurrence of pneumonia.

Doctors “have reported a further improvement in his condition,” President Jacob Zuma’s office said in a statement late Sunday.

The 94-year-old is continuing to receive treatment after doctors drained excess fluid that had built up on the lining of his lungs due to a lung infection.

The procedure, described as the tapping of a pleural effusion, has helped him breathe without difficulty, the government has said.

South Africa’s revered first black president and one of the towering figures of modern history was admitted late Wednesday for his third hospitalisation in four months.

It remained unclear how long Mandela would remain hospitalised. In December last year, he had an 18-day hospital stint, his longest since he walked free from jail in 1990.

Mandela’s recent health troubles have drawn an outpouring of prayers and well wishes from around the world.

Zuma thanked all “who continue to keep Madiba (Mandela’s clan name) and his family in their thoughts.”

“We also thank foreign governments for their messages of support.” US President Barack Obama last week said he was “deeply concerned” for the health of Mandela and would keep him in prayers.

But Mandela’s illness has also seen South Africans come to terms with the mortality of their revered Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Instead of being all concerned about his illness, “we should rather celebrate what he stood for, and what he continues to stand for, that he has been an icon of peace, an icon of service,” a Catholic priest Father Sebastian Rossouw told worshippers at the Regina Mundi parish in Soweto township on Sunday.

At home and abroad, the former president is idolised as the architect of South Africa’s peaceful transition from white-ruled police state to hope-filled democracy.

Nearly two decades years after he came to power in 1994 and served just one term, Mandela remains a unifying symbol in a country still riven by racial tensions and deep inequality.

It is the second time that Mandela has been hospitalised in weeks, after spending a night for check-ups on March 9.

That followed a nearly three-week hospital stay in December for another lung infection and gallstone surgery.

He was diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988 during his 27-year jail term and has long had problems with his lungs. He has also had treatment for prostate cancer and has suffered stomach ailments.

Pleural effusion is the accumulation of water between the lining covering the lung and that of the chest wall, experts say.

While Mandela’s legacy continues to loom large, he has long since exited the political stage and for the country’s youthful population he is a figure from another era who served as president for just one term.

He has not appeared in public since July 2010 when he was at the Soccer City stadium in Soweto for the World Cup final match.

Labour unrest, high-profile crimes, grinding poverty and corruption scandals have effectively ended the honeymoon enjoyed after Mandela ushered in the “Rainbow Nation”. But his decades-long struggle against apartheid still resonates.