Former South African president Nelson Mandela is said to be making "steady improvement" under treatment for pneumonia.

Doctors say he is much better now than when he was admitted to hospital a week ago.

A three-sentence statement from President Jacob Zuma's office was the most upbeat since the 94-year-old was admitted to hospital with a recurrence of a lung infection.

"His doctors say he continues to respond satisfactorily to treatment and is much better now than when he was admitted to hospital on 27 March 2013," the statement said.

In a bulletin on Saturday, the government said doctors had drained excess fluid from Mr Mandela's lungs and that he was breathing without difficulty.

It is the third health scare in four months for Mr Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and was hailed as a global symbol of tolerance and harmony.

He was in hospital briefly in early March for a check-up and was hospitalised in December for nearly three weeks with a lung infection and after surgery to remove gallstones.

Mr Mandela stepped down as president in 1999 and has not been politically active for a decade.

But he is still revered at home and abroad for leading the struggle against apartheid rule and then championing racial reconciliation while in office.

Global figures such as US President Barack Obama have sent get-well messages, and South Africans included him in Easter prayers at the weekend.

Mr Mandela has a history of lung problems dating back to when he contracted tuberculosis as a political prisoner.

He spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island and in other jails for his attempts to overthrow the white-minority government.