File photo: Nelson Mandela

Pretoria - Nelson Mandela was awake and “spoke a few words” to President Jacob Zuma when Zuma visited him in hospital in Pretoria on Saturday, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj told Weekend Argus on Saturday.

Mandela has been in hospital for two weeks, being treated for a reported lung infection and undergoing keyhole surgery to remove gallstones on December 15.

Maharaj said that Mandela had continued to respond to treatment.

He said the president had assured Madiba “of the love and support of all South Africans, young and old, and the whole world”.

When Weekend Argus expressed concern that a frail Madiba, 94, had recently appeared to struggle to recognise people, Maharaj said: “I can assure you he recognised President Zuma.

“Madiba responded to President Zuma and acknowledged him. They had a few words,” he said.

Maharaj added that Madiba had greeted Zuma by name when he visited him first on December 9, a day after his admission.

He repeated his earlier comment that when he visited Mandela himself, the former statesmen asked him: “Mac, what are you doing here?”

Maharaj said Madiba was still being treated “in the context of” the lung infection and the gallstones. “Obviously a patient is not taken to hospital for frivolous reasons. It has to be serious for a person to be hospitalised.

A whole set of tests are being done to see where the problem is... The doctors have said there’s no cause for panic.”

Maharaj said the doctors would rather err on the side of caution, even if it meant Mandela staying in hospital “a few days more”.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Saturday wished Mandela well when he unveiled a sculpture at the V&A Waterfront.

“Oupa, get better, man. You just like the attention. Just get better,” he said, adding

that he and his wife Leah had sent an SMS to Mandela’s wife Graca Machel, saying: “We’re keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.” Machel had thanked them.

Tutu said that he had been scheduled to visit Madiba in his home town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape last week.

“It’s a rough time. All of us want him to be there forever, but he can’t be there forever,” he said. - Sunday Argus