S. Africa's Mandela making 'steady progress', in good spirits

JOHANNESBURG (REUTERS) - Former South African President Nelson Mandela has made steady progress and is "in good spirits” after spending a second night in hospital under treatment for a lung infection, the country’s government said on Friday.

The news came as a relief to South Africans who were anxiously praying and waiting for an update on the health of the 94-year-old anti-apartheid legend, who was undergoing his third hospital treatment in four months.

"The Presidency wishes to advise that former President Nelson Mandela is in good spirits and enjoyed a full breakfast this morning," President Jacob Zuma’s office said in a statement.

“The doctors report that he is making steady progress. He remains under treatment and observation in hospital,” the statement added.

Mr Zuma’s government had said previously that Mr Mandela was responding well to treatment after he was admitted to hospital before midnight on Wednesday. Mr Zuma had sought to reassure the nation about his health.

Global leaders sent best wishes for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and in churches across South Africa, Christians included him in their prayers on Good Friday.

“I hope this time God will have mercy on him to give him the strength and courage to continue to be an icon for our country,” Father Benedict Mahlangu said at the Regina Mundi Catholic Church as it held services in the Soweto township outside Johannesburg, where Mr Mandela once lived.

Mr Mandela became South Africa’s first black president after winning the country’s first all-race election in 1994.

A former lawyer, he is revered at home and abroad for leading the struggle against white minority rule - including spending 27 years in prison on Robben Island - and then promoting the cause of racial reconciliation.