Continue praying for Mandela, Zuma tells South Africa

President Jacob Zuma wrapped up the year urging South Africa on Monday to continue praying for the frail Nelson Mandela who is recovering from a lung infection and surgery to extract gallstones.

"We should continue to keep the Mandela family in our thoughts and prayers until Tata (father) has fully recovered," Zuma said in a year-end message.

Zuma did not give an update on the health of the 94-year old revered statesman, who was discharged from hospital on December 26.

Mandela had spent nearly three weeks in a Pretoria hospital for treatment of a recurrent lung infection and removal of gallstones.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told AFP on Monday there was nothing new to report on the country's anti-apartheid struggle hero.

Acknowledging that 2012 was a "very challenging year", Zuma raised concern about violence and the huge income disparities still being experienced in Africa's wealthiest nation 18 years after the end of apartheid.

"We also have to build a society in the short term, where problems can be anticipated and resolved peacefully without a tragic outbreak of violence as ... happened in Marikana," he said.

In chilling scenes that were reminiscent of apartheid brutality, South African police shot dead 34 mine workers within minutes on August 16 at Lonmin platinum mine in the northwestern mining town of Marikana during a wildcat strike over wages.

The dispute snowballed into a wave of strikes across the key platinum and gold mining sectors in the country.

A census conducted in 2011 showed an improvement in some basic aspects of life for black South Africans, including salaries and education levels.

But Zuma said "at the same time, the census indicated deep income disparities."

"For example, it revealed that the income of a white household is six times that of an African household."

Zuma also made a plea for an end to violence in one of the world's most violent societies.

Official statistics show that an average 42 people are murdered a day in South Africa while there were almost 65,000 sexual offences in the country last year.

"We must build a society in which women and children feel free and safe, with no fear of abuse, rape or any form of violence, and a society in which our animals, especially the rhino, are safe from ruthless poachers," urged Zuma.

South Africa remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of conflict zones, with a murder rate surpassed only by Latin American nations embroiled in gruesome battles with narco-traffickers.

The country has also recently experienced a rhino poaching epidemic which saw at least 633 pachyderms killed in 2012, fuelled by demand from Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia, where the horn is variously believed to be an aphrodisiac, an anti-carcinogenic and an amulet.