Churches hold prayers for ailing Nelson Mandela

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Media captionPeople in South Africa are following Mandela's recovery closely

Churches across South Africa have held prayers for Nelson Mandela, who has been in hospital for four days being treated for pneumonia.

Several hundred people gathered at the Regina Mundi church in Soweto - once a focal point of the struggle against apartheid.

Mr Mandela, 94, had a "restful day and continues to receive treatment", a statement from the presidency said.

Doctors had reported a further improvement in his condition, it added.

There are no details yet on how long he will remain in hospital.

On Saturday, President Jacob Zuma's office announced that the former leader was breathing without difficulty.

It said excess fluid had been drained from his lungs to ease his breathing.

After Mr Mandela was admitted to hospital late on Wednesday, President Jacob Zuma said people "must not panic".

In his statement released on Sunday evening, Mr Zuma thanked "the thousands of South Africans who prayed for Madiba at various Easter church services".

Madiba is Mandela's clan name and is widely used to refer to him.

One service, at Midvaal, south of Johannesburg, was attended by a grand-daughter of the former leader, Ndileka Mandela.

Pleural effusion

The former president first contracted tuberculosis in the 1980s while detained on windswept Robben Island.

His lungs are said to have been damaged while working in a prison quarry. This latest spell in hospital is his fourth in just over two years.

Mr Mandela served as South Africa's first black president from 1994 to 1999 and is regarded by many as the father of the nation for leading the struggle against apartheid.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj, a prisoner on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela in the 1960s and 70s, said on Saturday that Mr Mandela had been admitted to hospital "due to a recurrence of pneumonia".

In his statement he said: "Doctors advised that due to the lung infection, former President Mandela had developed a pleural effusion which was tapped. This has resulted in him now being able to breathe without difficulty.

"He continues to respond to treatment and is comfortable."

The hospital Mr Mandela is attending has not been disclosed.

Last December Mr Mandela was treated for a lung infection and gallstones - his longest period in hospital since leaving prison in 1990.

In February, he was treated for a stomach condition.

When asked whether people should prepare for the inevitable, Mr Zuma told BBC News: "In Zulu, when someone passes away who is very old, people say he or she has gone home. I think those are some of the things we should be thinking about."

But he stressed that Mr Mandela had been able to handle the situation "very well" so far.

Our correspondent says South Africans have been praying for the recovery of Mr Mandela, who remains a moral beacon in the country despite withdrawing from public life almost a decade ago.

Despite his long imprisonment, Mr Mandela forgave his former enemies and as president urged South Africans of all races to work together and seek reconciliation.

In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

His main home is in Qunu, a small rural village in Eastern Cape province, where he says he spent the happiest days of his childhood.

However, doctors said in December he should remain at his home in the Johannesburg neighbourhood of Houghton to be close to medical facilities.

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