Former president Nelson Mandela spent Christmas Day in hospital.

Johannesburg – Former president Nelson Mandela is “looking much better” and is in high spirits on Tuesday, President Jacob Zuma said.

Zuma said in a statement that he had visited the former statesman to wish him a merry Christmas.

“He was happy to have visitors on this special day and is looking much better. The doctors are happy with the progress that he is making,” Zuma said.

“We found him in good spirits. He shouted my clan name, Nxamalala, as I walked into the ward.”

Zuma said Mandela's family have been appreciative of the support they've received from the South African public.

“That is what keeps them going at this difficult time,” Zuma said.

Earlier in the day, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has joined the call to South Africans to pray for Mandela, SABC radio news reported.

The King said he wished Madiba a speedy recovery and thanked the medical team looking after him.

Mandela was flown to a Pretoria hospital from his Eastern Cape home at Qunu on December 8.

He was diagnosed with a lung infection and also underwent gallstone surgery.

His current stay in hospital is his longest since he was freed over two decades ago. – Sapa