As Nelson Mandela's health improves, the South African Presidency says it is "disturbed" by rumours that the former leader is dead.

President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela in hospital in Pretoria, where he was admitted with breathing difficulties earlier this month, and reported that the anti-apartheid hero's health had improved overnight.

Zuma said: "I cancelled my visit to Mozambique today so that I could see him and confer with the doctors.

"He is much better today than he was when I saw him last night. The medical team continues to do a sterling job. We must pray for Tata's ['father's'] health and wish him well.

"We must also continue with our work and daily activities while Madiba [Mandela] remains hospitalised."

Appeal for respect

Several news websites published articles claiming Mandela had been taken off life support and had passed away during the night. In response, the Government said in a statement.

"The Presidency is disturbed by the rumours that are being spread about former President Mandela's health. We appeal for respect for the privacy and dignity of the former president."

Mandela's daughter Makaziwe has also attacked the media over its interest in her father, claiming journalists are behaving like "vultures".

She told SABC Radio: "We don't mind the interest but I think it has gone overboard. When Margaret Thatcher was sick in hospital I didn't see this type of media frenzy.

"Is it because we are an African country that people feel they can't respect our laws? There's part of Madiba that needs to be respected. Not everything needs to be made public.

"It's truly like vultures waiting when the lion has devoured the buffalo, waiting there for the last of the carcass. That's the image we have as a family."