Former President Nelson Mandela is in "critical but stable" condition, South Africa's current head of state said Thursday.

Jacob Zuma said doctors had informed him that the 94-year-old father of the nation's health had "improved during the course of the night."

"He is much better today than he was when I saw him last night," Zuma said after visiting Mandela at the Pretoria hospital where he was admitted on June 8 for treatment for a recurring lung infection.

"I canceled my visit to Mozambique today so that I can see him and confer with the doctors," the South African president added.

"The medical team continues to do a sterling job. We must pray for Tata's ("father" in the Xhosa language) health and wish him well," Zuma said.

The oldest daughter of the South African icon said earlier Thursday in an interview with SAFM radio that her father was in "very critical" condition.

Makaziwe Mandela also said that Madiba (the former president's Xhosa clan name) was still trying to open his eyes and "responding to touch," though she acknowledged that "it doesn't look good" and "anything is imminent."

Nelson Mandela's lung problems are a legacy of the tuberculosis he contracted during the 27 years he spent behind bars for his opposition to the apartheid regime of racial segregation.

After his release in 1990, Mandela and the last president of apartheid-era South Africa, F.W. de Klerk, led the process of peacefully dismantling that system.

They jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their collaboration in that effort.

Elected president in 1994, Mandela's leadership was credited with helping to avert widespread racial violence in post-apartheid South Africa. EFE