QUNU, South Africa — A week after he was hospitalized with a serious lung infection, former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa has started to recover, his grandson said Saturday.
“He’s getting better,” the grandson, Mandla Mandela, told mourners at a funeral service for a member of the Mandela clan in Qunu, the remote village in Eastern Cape Province where Mr. Mandela, 94, spent much of his childhood and where he has lived since mid-2012.
Mandla Mandela said that when he left Pretoria, where his grandfather is being treated by military doctors, “he was looking very good.” He thanked Christian congregations in South Africa and across the world for their prayers for Mr. Mandela but also urged them to continue.
“People must keep praying because these are the prayers that will heal my grandfather,” he said.
Mandla Mandela is a local traditional leader, serving as the chief of Mvezo, the village where his grandfather was born. His elevation to that role was seen as a restoration of sorts for the Mandelas, who are part of the royal family of the Thembu clan. In his autobiography, Mr. Mandela wrote that his father had been stripped of his chieftaincy by colonial leaders. Mandla Mandela, who is said to be very close to his grandfather, has occasionally been embroiled in personal and political controversy over his multiple marriages and his role in managing his grandfather’s legacy. He was speaking at the funeral of Florence Mandela, a 96-year-old relative who lived close to Nelson Mandela’s retirement home in Qunu.
Several hundred villagers gathered in a tent for a service honoring Mrs. Mandela, which featured lengthy elegies, fond jokes and gospel music led by a local Methodist choir.
A sizable group of journalists was also in attendance, a reminder of the intense international interest surrounding Nelson Mandela’s health. After spending 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid, Mr. Mandela led South Africa’s peaceful transition away from white minority rule. He served just one term as president, stepping down in 1999 to focus on charitable work. In 2004 he retired from public life and was last seen publicly at the 2010 World Cup, which South Africa hosted. He has been in fragile health for several years, and since last December he has been hospitalized four times.
Mandla Mandela also used the occasion to draw attention to South Africa’s rape epidemic, telling mourners that three elderly women in the community had been raped and killed.
“This happened, but people didn’t want to talk about it,” he said, adding that both the governing party and the nation needed to face up to the problem. “As a nation, we have a responsibility to fight this rape epidemic. It is a shame for the entire nation.”