Pretoria, South Africa (CNN) — The condition of South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela has improved overnight, President Jacob Zuma said today, as the eyes of the nation remain fixed on his progress.
Zuma, whose statement came after he visited Mandela in a hospital in Pretoria, said Mandela’s medical team told him the former president “remains critical but is now stable.”
“I canceled my visit to Mozambique today so that I can see him and confer with the doctors. He is much better today than he was when I saw him last night,” Zuma said.
Earlier, Mandela’s oldest daughter said that although her father is critically ill, he opens his eyes and responds to touch. Mandela, 94, considered the founding father of South Africa’s modern democracy, has been undergoing treatment at the Pretoria hospital since June 8 for a recurring lung infection.
“I reiterate that Tata is very critical, that anything is imminent,” Makaziwe Mandela told state-run South African Broadcasting Corp. “But I want to emphasize again that it’s only God who knows when the time to go is. And so we will wait.”
“He’s … still reactive to touch. We will live with that hope until the final end comes,” she said.
Zuma’s statement also warned against the rash of misleading reports about Mandela’s condition.
“The presidency is disturbed by the rumors that are being spread about former President Mandela’s health. We appeal for respect for the privacy and dignity of the former president,” it said.
An official briefed on Mandela’s condition said he was on life support late Wednesday. Government spokesman Mac Maharaj declined to comment on the report, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.
‘We need you!’
Shortly after visiting Mandela Wednesday night, Zuma canceled his planned trip to Mozambique, where he was due to attend a summit on investment Thursday. As the nation remained on edge, South Africans found solace in candlelight vigils. Police barricaded the street leading to the hospital’s main entrance as crowds posted messages and left tributes at the hospital wall.
“We need you!” one sign read. “We love you tata, get well soon!” said another.
Mandela became an international figure while enduring 27 years in prison for fighting apartheid, the country’s system of racial segregation. He was elected the nation’s first black president in 1994, four years after he was freed.
Even as he has faded from the spotlight, he remains popular and is considered a hero of democracy worldwide.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who is on an a tour of the continent this week that includes South Africa, said his thoughts are with the nation’s citizens.
“He is a personal hero, but I’m not unique in that regard,” Obama told CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin in Dakar, Senegal, the first stop of his African tour.
“I think he’s a hero for the world and if/when he passes, we know his legacy will linger on throughout the ages.”
Obama’s visit to South Africa on Saturday will include a visit to Robben Island, where Mandela spent a majority of his prison term. The White House schedule does not include a visit with the anti-apartheid icon. After South Africa, Obama heads to Tanzania, his last stop before he heads back to Washington.