Well-wishers hold messages of support for Nelson Mandela outside the hospital in Pretoria where he is staying. Photograph: EPA
By : Associated Press in Johannesburg for the guardian.co.uk,
Jacob Zuma asks audience at Youth Day commemoration of 1976 Soweto shootings to wish Mandela a happy Father’s Day
Zuma said the 94-year-old former president remained in a serious condition, but doctors have said that improvements have been sustained over the last two days.
Zuma said Mandela “continues to engage with family,” according to the text of a speech released by the president’s office.
Mandela, the country’s first democratically elected president, has been hospitalised four times since December. Zuma asked the audience at a Youth Day celebration to join him in wishing Mandela a happy Father’s Day.
Youth Day commemorates 16 June 1976, when schoolchildren from the township of Soweto marched in protest against a government order that half of all classes in secondary school must be taught in Afrikaans.
Police fired on the young marchers. Hector Pieterson, 13, was the first shot dead. Hundreds of children â€“ who fought the police with sticks and rocks â€“ were wounded or killed.
Zuma said the youth of 1976 “took on the might of the apartheid state” and that Pieterson “became a symbol of the student uprising and quest for freedom and a better life.”
“The bravery of our youth during those difficult times pushed our country closer to freedom and democracy, which we finally achieved in 1994,” Zuma said.
Leeann Foster visited the Pieterson memorial on Sunday, where many people had Mandela on their minds.
“It’s a bit strange that he’s not here to celebrate with us as he has done so much for the struggle. But I think that we should all be grateful and appreciate what he’s done so far for us and pray for a speedy recovery,” Foster said.
Mandela, a Nobel peace prize winner, has been prone to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during his long imprisonment, most of which was spent on Robben Island off Cape Town, where he worked in a stone quarry.