South African President Jacob Zuma said on Wednesday he was happy with Nelson Mandela's progress, following what he called a "difficult few days" for the 94-year-old anti-apartheid hero who is being treated in hospital for a recurring lung infection.
Mandela, South Africa's first black president who ruled from 1994 to 1999, was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on Saturday in a serious but stable condition, his fourth hospital stay since December.
"We fully understand and appreciate the global interest in this world icon," Zuma said in a scheduled, budget-related speech to parliament.
"We urge South Africans and the international community to continue to keep President Mandela and the medical team in their thoughts and prayers."
Mandela's "serious" condition has reinforced a creeping realization among South Africa's 53 million people that they will one day have to say goodbye to the father of the "Rainbow Nation" that he tried to forge from the ashes of apartheid.
Mandela has received visits from family members including his current and former wives, Graca Machel and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Zuma will visit him "as soon as his diary allows", his spokesman told state radio earlier on Wednesday.
Mandela has a history of lung problems dating back to his time on the wind-swept Robben Island prison camp near Cape Town.
Before his 1990 release he spent nearly three decades in prison for conspiring to overthrow the white-minority apartheid government. He was sentenced exactly 49 years ago.