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Mandela 'much better' after week in hospital

Nelson Mandela pictured on July 17, 2012, at his home in Qunu, Eastern Cape, South Africa
Former South African President Nelson Mandela is pictured on July 17, 2012, at his home in Qunu, Eastern Cape, on the eve of his 94th birthday. Mandela is "much better" and responding "satisfactorily" to treatment after a week in hospital for pneumonia, t

Nelson Mandela is getting "much better" and responding satisfactorily to treatment for pneumonia, the South African presidency said on Wednesday, a week after the frail anti-apartheid icon was hospitalised.

The charismatic 94-year-old is steadily improving and doctors are happy with his progress, President Jacob Zuma's office said in a statement.

"His doctors say he continues to respond satisfactorily to treatment and is much better now than he was when he was admitted to hospital on the 27th of March 2013," it said.

"He has been visited by family and continues to make steady progress."

No details were given in the short statement on a possible release from the undisclosed hospital where he is being treated.

The Nobel peace laureate was admitted shortly before midnight a week ago, his third hospital stay since December.

Doctors last week drained excess fluid that had built up on the lining of Mandela's lungs.

The procedure helped him breathe without difficulty.

Last month Mandela spent a night in hospital for a scheduled checkup and in December he was admitted for 18 days for a lung infection and gallstones surgery.

It was his longest admission since he walked free from jail in 1990.

Mandela's ill health has prompted an outpouring of wishes and prayers, from US President Barack Obama to locals penning messages on flower-bed stones to leave outside his Johannesburg home.

Profile of Nelson Mandela
Profile of South African former president Nelson Mandela (90 x 145 mm)

In Qunu, his rural childhood village of rolling hills and humble homesteads in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, some 500 villagers gathered at a community hall on Tuesday to prayer for his recovery.

"I want to say there is no sickness that he cannot overcome because he won the fight to liberate the whole country," Lwazi Mboleni, 20, told the Daily Dispatch newspaper.

"The whole of South Africa prays that he becomes strong."

Mandela's lung problems date back to his 27 years in apartheid jail when he was diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988.

He has also had treatment for prostate cancer and has suffered stomach ailments.

His latest hospitalisation has caused many South Africans to begin to come to terms with the mortality of the father of the "Rainbow Nation".

A popular continental cable television DSTV erroneously broadcast an advert for Mandela's obituary on Tuesday night. It quickly pulled the spot, entitled "Remembering Madiba 1918 - 2013" and apologised, blaming the error on a technical glitch.

The prisoner-turned-president is idolised as the man who walked out of apartheid jail and forgave his white oppressors to steer Africa's wealthiest country into democracy.

He remains a unifying symbol in a country still riven by racial tensions and deep inequality and facing a raft of political scandals.

After leading his African National Congress to victory in the first multi-racial elections in 1994, Mandela served a single five-year term as president.

He then took up a new role as a roving elder statesman and leading campaigner against AIDS.

He retired from public life in 2004 and has not appeared in public since July 2010, when he was at the Soccer City stadium in Soweto for the World Cup final.

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