JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela is breathing "without difficulty" after having a procedure to clear fluid in his lung area that was caused by pneumonia, the spokesman for South Africa's president said Saturday.
Mandela, the 94-year-old former president and anti-apartheid leader, had a recurrence of pneumonia, said presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj. South African officials had previously not specified that Mandela had pneumonia, saying instead that he had a lung infection.
Mandela's medical team reported that the increasingly frail ex-leader "had developed a pleural effusion which was tapped," the office of President Jacob Zuma said in a statement. "This has resulted in him now being able to breathe without difficulty. He continues to respond to treatment and is comfortable."
Pleural effusion is a buildup of fluid around the lung that can make it harder to breath. Doctors usually drain it with a tube.
The president's office thanked all who have prayed for Mandela and his family and have sent messages of support. Well-wishers included Kazempe Tambala, a street vendor in the Johannesburg township of Soweto.
"He's still our hero," Tambala said. "We wish him all the best. Get well soon, Mandela! We still love you here in Soweto."
Mandela was admitted to a hospital near midnight Wednesday night in the capital, Pretoria. It was his third trip to a hospital since December, when he was treated for a lung infection and also had a procedure to remove gallstones. Earlier this month, he spent a night in a hospital for what officials said was a scheduled medical test.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been particularly vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his 27-year imprisonment for fighting white racist rule in his country.
The elderly are especially vulnerable to pneumonia, which can be fatal. Its symptoms include fever, chills, a cough, chest pain and shortness of breath. Many germs cause pneumonia.
Many South Africans are including Mandela in their prayers on the Easter weekend, and spokesman Maharaj said expressions of concern have poured in from around the world. On Thursday, President Barack Obama said he was worried about Mandela's health, but noted he was as strong physically as he has been in leadership and character.
Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994 after elections were held, bringing an end to the system of white racist rule known as apartheid. After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela was widely credited with averting even greater bloodshed by helping the country in the transition to democratic rule.
Zuma's office has said doctors were acting with extreme caution because of the Mandela's advanced age.
Mandela is a revered figure in his homeland, which has named buildings and many other places after him and uses his image on national bank notes. He is also seen around the world as a symbol of reconciliation.