Mandela 'responding well' to treatment

Nelson Mandela has been "responding well to treatment", the South African government said on Thursday, the frail former president's sixth day in hospital battling a lung infection.

In a statement, members of the cabinet wished the revered anti-apartheid icon a quick recovery and said they were "pleased that he is responding well to treatment".

The 94-year-old elder statesman was admitted to hospital in the capital Pretoria in the early hours of Saturday for a pulmonary condition that has plagued him for years.

President Jacob Zuma had told the country on Wednesday that Mandela was responding better to treatment after "a difficult last few days".

It is Mandela's fourth stay in hospital since December, leading to a growing acceptance that the much loved father of the "Rainbow Nation" may be nearing the end of his life.

Despite the more positive assessment of Mandela's state of heath after the government previously described his condition as "serious but stable", concerns remained among South Africans.

"I don't trust the information that I'm hearing because they say he's in a stable condition but a bad condition," said Anele Ndabeni, 28, a resident of the city Mthatha in the Eastern Cape province close to Mandela's rural home village of Qunu.

"They should tell the public and stop hiding what they're saying. I think there's something bad, but I'm not sure what it is."

Another resident of Mthatha, Retselisitsoe Thethe, 29, said he felt Mandela should be allowed to die in peace.

"They should just let him naturally die. They are keeping him alive but his body is tired," he told AFP.

"His spirit says yes, but his body you know is dead," he said. "It's time now. We would really appreciate to let him rest in peace."

Members of Mandela's family, known for frequent internal feuding, have been visiting him regularly in a public display of unity.

On Thursday his youngest daughter Zindzi visited the statesman briefly.

His wife Graca Machel has been at his bedside almost constantly since calling off a trip to London last week.

His eldest daughter Zenani, who is South Africa's ambassador to Argentina, as well as his daughter Makaziwe and his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela have visited him almost daily.

The family said on Wednesday it was "deeply touched" by the worldwide support for the man considered one of the greatest figures of the 20th century.

As an anti-apartheid revolutionary, Mandela spent 27 years in prison during white racist rule, walking free in 1990 before becoming South Africa's first black president four years later.

He has a long history of lung problems since being diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis in 1988 while in prison.

Friends have spoken of his failing memory, a far cry from the sharp-witted dancing statesman celebrated all over the world.

In December he underwent surgery to remove gallstones as he recovered from a lung infection. Then in March he was admitted for a scheduled overnight check-up.

Two months ago he was discharged after treatment for pneumonia.

Mandela, who turns 95 next month, has not been seen in public since the World Cup final in South Africa in July 2010.

He appeared frail and distant in a much-criticised April video showing Zuma and other members of the ruling African National Congress visiting Mandela at his Johannesburg home.