Mandela turns 95 in hospital bed
Updated: 2013-07-19 01:29
Zuma says former leader's health getting better
The sweet news for Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday on Thursday is that the former South African president's health is improving after fears he was close to death during ongoing hospital treatment.
"Madiba remains in hospital in Pretoria but his doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving," said a statement from President Jacob Zuma, referring to Mandela by his popular clan name.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, visit the soccer field ahead of the World Cup final in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2010. A friend of Mandela described them as "a loving couple". Luca Bruno / Associated Press
"We are proud to call this international icon our own as South Africans and wish him good health," Zuma said in the statement. He thanked South Africans for supporting Mandela during his hospitalization with "undying love and compassion" and responding to a call to give the beloved figure "the biggest birthday celebration ever this year".
Ndileka Mandela said her grandfather was now more responsive. "He's using his eyes, nodding," she said.
Mandela was taken to hospital on June 8 for treatment for a recurring lung infection. In previous announcements, the government said he was in critical but stable condition. Court documents filed by Mandela's family earlier this month said Mandela was on life support and near death.
Mandela is making "remarkable progress", said one of his daughters, Zindzi, on Thursday, after tense weeks in which some South Africans talked about the possibility Mandela was on the verge of dying.
"We look forward to having him back at home soon," the South African Press Association quoted Zindzi Mandela as saying during the government rollout of a digital ID card system in Pretoria.
She was handed a replica of Mandela's new ID card during the ceremony.
Thursday also marked the 15th wedding anniversary of Mandela and Graca Machel, the former first lady of Mozambique who has spent much of the time at her husband's side during his illness.
Schools around South Africa honored the anti-apartheid leader in special assemblies, and many people volunteered 67 minutes for charitable activities to match what organizers said were the 67 years of public service by Mandela, leader of the fight against white minority rule. Activities were also planned at the United Nations headquarters in New York City and other parts of the world.
"We don't only recognize him on this day. We put smiles on other people's faces, we donate to other people less fortunate," Thato Williams, a 13-year-old student, said during an assembly in Mandela's honor at Melpark Primary School in Johannesburg. Some 700 students there sang Happy Birthday in a hall filled with posters created to honor Mandela's contributions.
Zuma opened low-cost housing for poor families in the Pretoria area. South Africa is struggling with high unemployment, labor unrest, service delivery shortcomings and other social challenges that have dampened the expectations of a better life for black South Africans after the end of apartheid two decades ago.
Elsewhere in South Africa, social workers, military commanders and others joined in planting trees, painting hospices and donating food, blankets and other basic necessities in poor areas. Doctors also administered eye tests, inoculations and other medical treatments to the needy.
Visiting Pretoria, European Union President Herman van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso packed food parcels at a charity event. Van Rompuy said his two sons were fans of Mandela, whom he described as "the brightest sun of South Africa".
Mandela was jailed for 27 years under apartheid and led a difficult transition from apartheid to democracy, becoming president in 1994. He served one five-year term, evolving into a global statesman and pursuing charitable causes after that. He retired from public life years ago.
In other activities marking Mandela's birthday, English Premier League football team Manchester City was scheduled to play South Africa's AmaZulu team at Durban's World Cup stadium later Thursday. The game is the second of two preseason matches in South Africa for Manchester City in the Nelson Mandela Football Invitational.
AP — AFP — Xinhua