JOHANNESBURG -- President Jacob Zuma of South Africa gave a largely upbeat assessment on Tuesday of the health of Nelson Mandela, the nation's first black president and anti-apartheid icon, who has spent more than two weeks in the hospital for a lung infection and gallstones.
Mr. Zuma said in a statement that Mr. Mandela, 94, "is looking much better" and that "the doctors are happy with the progress he is making."
The president visited Mr. Mandela on Christmas morning at a Pretoria hospital along with Mr. Mandela's wife, the children's rights activist Graça Machel.
"We found him in good spirits," Mr. Zuma said in the statement. "He shouted my clan name, Nxamalala, as I walked into the ward."
Mr. Mandela has been in increasingly frail health, and his latest hospitalization has been the longest since he was released from prison in 1990. His health is closely watched; local news organizations have been camped outside the hospital.
He has suffered recurrent lung infections, a legacy of the tuberculosis he contracted in prison. The government tightly controls information about his condition, releasing only occasional updates. When Mr. Mandela was first hospitalized on Dec. 8, the government said that he was in no danger, but Mr. Zuma later said that Mr. Mandela's condition was serious.
Mr. Mandela has been out of politics since 1999, when he stepped down after a single term as president, and retired from public life in 2004. He has not been seen in public since 2010, when he briefly appeared at the opening of the World Cup soccer tournament, which South Africa hosted.
His extended illness comes at the end of a year in which South Africa has faced perhaps the most serious unrest since the end of apartheid. His party, the African National Congress, was deeply divided over a leadership struggle, and a wave of wildcat strikes by angry mine workers -- followed by a harsh police crackdown against them -- dented the country's image as a bastion of peace and reconciliation.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.