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Nelson Mandela's Health Making Progress, Officials Say

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A mural depicting former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Alexandra township in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, to honor Mandela's 94th birthday which was celebrated on Wednesday, July 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe) | AP

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela "has made progress" in getting better after contracting a lung infection, officials said Wednesday.

A short statement issued by current President Jacob Zuma's office announced Mandela's status, as the 94-year-old leader's stay in a military hospital near South Africa's capital, Pretoria, stretched into a fifth day Wednesday.

"Doctors attending to former President Mandela have reported that he has made progress during the past 24 hours and they are satisfied with the way he is responding to treatment," the statement by presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said.

The statement offered no other details.

Mandela was admitted to 1 Military Hospital on Saturday for tests. It was several days before authorities announced that Mandela was ill. Each day he spends hospitalized has caused growing concern in South Africa, a nation of 50 million people that largely reveres Mandela for being the nation's first democratically elected president who sought to bring the country together after centuries of racial division.

In January 2011, Mandela was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for what officials initially described as tests but what turned out to be an acute respiratory infection. The chaos that followed Mandela's stay at that public hospital, with journalists and the curious surrounding it and entering wards, saw the South African military take charge of his care and the government control the information about his health.

Mandela has a history with lung problems. He fell ill with tuberculosis in 1988 toward the tail-end of his prison years. While doctors said it caused no permanent damage to his lungs, doctors and experts say it can cause problems years later for those infected.

Mandela was a leader in the struggle against racist white rule in South Africa and once he emerged from 27 years in prison in 1990, he won worldwide acclaim for urging reconciliation. He won South Africa's first truly democratic elections in 1994, serving one five-year term. The Nobel laureate later retired from public life to live in his remote village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape, and last made a public appearance when his country hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.

Mandela disengaged himself from the country's politics over the last decade but continued campaigning against AIDS. He has grown increasing frail in recent years.


Jon Gambrell can be reached at .

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