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S. Africa leader says Mandela stable


– Nelson Mandela’s health has improved since Wednseday night and the former South African president is now stable, President Jacob Zuma said Thursday.

The nation’s first black president remains in critical condition, Zuma said in an emailed statement from his office, after visiting Mandela in a hospital in Pretoria, the capital, Thursday.

Zuma canceled a trip to neighboring Mozambique scheduled for today after visiting Mandela, 94. Mandela was admitted to the intensive-care unit on June 8 to receive treatment for a recurring lung infection.

“He is much better today than he was when I saw him last night,” Zuma said Thursday in the statement issued by his office. “The medical team continues to do a sterling job.”

Hundreds of South Africans, many of them children, have been flocking to the hospital, leaving cards, balloons, flowers and messages of support for the country’s first black president.

“Our thoughts and prayers right now are with the people of South Africa,” President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to arrive in the southern African nation tonight for an official visit, told reporters Thursday in Dakar, Senegal. Mandela is “a hero for the world. His legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages.”

Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, and his grandson, Mandla, were among those seen leaving the hospital Thursday while 93-year-old Josephine Siwela, who clutched a copy of Mandela’s book “Conversations with Myself,” was among a crowd of more than 600 outside.

“All this singing and chanting is to show our love and appreciation for the man lying on that hospital bed,” Bafana Mtsweni, an unemployed 24-year-old resident of Mamelodi, a township near Pretoria, said in an interview. “We still want to be with him.”

Mandela, who is due to turn 95 next month, became the president of the continent’s largest economy after his African National Congress won the country’s first all-race elections in 1994. He spent 27 years in jail for opposing white-minority rule and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Doctors downgraded Mandela’s condition to critical on June 23. He is on life-support machines to help him breathe, the London-based Daily Telegraph reported, citing Napilisi Mandela, a member of Mandela’s clan.

Residents of an apartment block opposite the hospital cashed in on the influx of journalists, charging them 50 cents to use their bathrooms and $5 to shoot aerial pictures of the hospital.

Mandela continues to open his eyes and respond to touch, his daughter Makaziwe told the state-owned SAfm radio station Thursday.

“I can reiterate that Tata is very critical,” she said, using the Xhosa-language word for father.

“Every improvement in my grandfather’s health is cause for celebration,” Mandla Mandela said in an emailed statement.