JOHANNESBURG – After days of somber news, as South Africa’s former leader Nelson Mandela clung to life in intensive care, a sliver of hope emerged Wednesday: He was responding better to treatment for a lung infection, President Jacob Zuma told Parliament.
Earlier in the day, Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, had told a radio interviewer that Mandela’s health was unchanged, and he remained in serious but stable condition in a Pretoria hospital.
Mandela fell ill last week and was rushed to the hospital early Saturday after his condition deteriorated sharply.
“I am happy to report that Madiba is responding better to treatment from this morning,” Zuma said, using Mandela’s clan name in a speech before a vote on the budget.
Members of Mandela’s family again visited the elder statesman in the hospital Wednesday. His grandson, Mandla Mandela, issued a statement on behalf of the family, saying they were “deeply touched” by the outpouring of prayers and goodwill messages.
During the 27 years he spent in prison under the country’s former white-minority government, Mandela contracted tuberculosis, leaving his lungs damaged. As a result, he has struggled with repeated lung infections in recent years.
Mandela’s illnesses – with four hospitalizations since December – and the change in tone from officials, who have been describing his condition as “very serious,” has seen South Africans confront the reality of their beloved hero’s mortality as never before.
Residents of Mandela’s home village, Qunu, in the Eastern Cape province, told journalists they did not expect to see him before his funeral.
Mkhuseli Gqabantshi, 74, said Mandela was viewed in the village like Jesus, sacrificing himself for his people.
“We’ll never see him again now, I don’t think so, really,” he told Agence France-Presse.