“He was happy to have visitors on this special day and is looking much better. The doctors are happy with the progress that he is making,” said Zuma, who joined Mandela’s wife Graca Machel and the family on the visit to his Pretoria hospital.
“We found him in good spirits,” said Zuma in a statement.
The 94-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on December 8.
He has been treated there for a recurrent lung infection and also underwent surgery to remove gallstones, in his longest hospital stay since coming out of prison in 1990 after 27 years in detention.
On Monday, Zuma’s office, which is tasked with issuing updates on his condition, said doctors had confirmed that he would not be home for Christmas. But there was no indication of when he might be discharged.
Only limited details of Mandela’s condition have been made public by the South African government, which has repeatedly called on the public to respect the former president’s privacy.
His grandson Mandla Mandela told eNCA television that the family was sad he would not be home this Christmas.
“We are greatly saddened by his absence… we didn’t anticipate that he would be away for so long,” Mandla said from Mvezo village, where he is the local chief.
Before his retirement in 2004 Mandela used to host a Christmas feast in his home village of Qunu for impoverished children — a highlight for many.
Since retiring from public life, Christmas has been a more low-key affair, spent with family.
Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president after the country’s first all-race elections in 1994, has a long history of lung problems, dating back to the time when he was a political prisoner on Robben Island.
He contracted tuberculosis — a disease which killed his father — while in jail.
In January 2011 he was hospitalised for two nights for an acute respiratory infection.
Mandela was last seen in public in 2010, clad in a scarf during the closing ceremony of the FIFA World Cup, when he was wheeled into the stadium in a golf cart.
Mandela, who is also fondly known by his clan name Madiba, stepped down in 1999 after serving one term as president.