South African President Jacob Zuma on Thursday honored anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who has been hospitalized since the weekend to recover from a lung infection.
Zuma unveiled a statue of Mandela in the city of Bloemfontein, also called Mangaung, which next week hosts the ruling African National Congress party’s convention.
“We will be able to yet again pay tribute to a man who became a symbol of both our struggle for freedom and the free and democratic South Africa,” Zuma said.
Mandela, 94, was admitted on Saturday to 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria, the capital.
“As we meet, Madiba is recuperating from a lung infection at a Pretoria hospital,” Zuma said, using Mandela’s clan name, often used here as a sign of affection. “We wish him a speedy recovery and assure him yet again of the love and support of many in the country and abroad.”
Zuma made the remarks while dedicating an airport in the name of Bram Fischer, a white South African who was also a key figure in the struggle against apartheid, the system of racist white rule which collapsed in the 1994 elections which made Mandela the nation’s first black president. Fischer was a leader of the South African Communist Party and a lawyer who defended Mandela at trial.
Later Thursday, the presidency issued this short Twitter message attributed to presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj: “Former President Nelson Mandela’s health continues to improve.”
Mandela has a history of lung problems. He fell ill with tuberculosis in 1988 when he was still in prison. He largely retired from public life after serving one five-year term as president.