Former South African leader Nelson Mandela has undergone a surgical procedure to drain fluid from his lungs.

The civil rights icon, 94, was hospitalised on Wednesday night (27Mar13) to treat a recurring bout of pneumonia, and a spokesman for the country's President Jacob Zuma announced on Saturday (30Mar13) that doctors had performed a procedure to ease Mandela's breathing difficulties.

The statement reads, "Former President Nelson Mandela was admitted to hospital during the late hours of 27 March 2013 due to a recurrence of pneumonia. Doctors advise that due to the lung infection former President Mandela had developed a pleural effusion which was tapped. This has resulted in him now being able to breathe without difficulty.

"He continues to respond to treatment and is comfortable. The Presidency wishes to acknowledge and thank all who have been praying for and sending messages of support to (Mandela) and his family."