JOHANNESBURG — Former President Nelson Mandela began responding better to treatment Wednesday morning for a recurring lung infection following "a difficult last few days," South Africa's president said.
President Jacob Zuma told parliament that he is happy with the progress that the 94-year-old is making following his hospitalization on Saturday.
Mandela spent a fifth straight day Wednesday in a Pretoria hospital, where he was visited by one of his daughters and two granddaughters.
Zuma noted that Wednesday marked the 49th anniversary of the sentencing of Mandela to life in prison in 1964. He said "our thoughts" are with Mandela and his family "on this crucial historical anniversary."
"We are very happy with the progress that he is now making following a difficult last few days," Zuma said. "We appreciate the messages of support from all over the world."
Zuma on Wednesday applauded the legacy of Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists. South Africa's government disbanded its official policy of apartheid — racial segregation and discrimination — in 1994.
"Our country is a much better place to live in now than it was before 1994, even though we still have so much work to do," Zuma said.
Mandela, the leader of South Africa's anti-apartheid movement, spent 27 years in prison during white racist rule. He was freed in 1990, and then embarked on peacemaking efforts during the tense transition that saw the demise of the apartheid system and his own election as South Africa's first black president in 1994.
His admission to a hospital in Pretoria, the capital, is Mandela's fourth time being admitted to a hospital for treatment since December. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama wished Mandela a "speedy recovery" on Tuesday.
Mandela's grandson, Mandla Mandela, visited his grandfather on Wednesday and said the family has been deeply touched by the outpouring prayers and messages of goodwill from around the world. He said the family is satisfied with the care Mandela is receiving.
Zuma used Wednesday's budget address to parliament as an occasion to highlight the work carried out by the African National Congress, the party that Mandela led to South Africa's presidency, over the last 19 years.
South Africa's economy has expanded 83 percent since 1994 and per capita income increased by 40 percent, Zuma said. But the recession in Europe, South Africa's biggest trading partner, has hit Africa's biggest economy hard, and he said South Africa — which has experienced deadly labor strife in recent years — must move past labor violence.
The vestiges of apartheid, Zuma said, remain in South Africa: Black South Africans have less education and fewer skills than whites because of the apartheid era. As part of promoting national reconciliation, the implementation of black economic empowerment policies will continue, he said. Direct black ownership in Johannesburg's stock market is less than 5 percent.
"In addition, annual Employment Equity reports indicate that white males still own, control and manage the economy," Zuma said.
The government is amending the black economic empowerment law to address some of these challenges, he added.
Outside Mandela's Johannesburg home, well-wishers continued to leave tributes to the former president. A neighbor, Zaheerah Bham'Ismail, said it's an emotional time for South Africans because Mandela "portrays the entire legacy of what everybody has fought for and our ideals."
"But at the same time we know we have to say goodbye at some point because he needs ... his peace, as well. But I think in order to hold onto him, we've got to go back to fight for the ideals that he fought for," Bham'Ismail said.