Mandela health ‘improving steadily’ as South Africa celebrates his birthday
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After weeks battling critical illness, Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president and an emblem of its struggle against apartheid, spent his 95th birthday in the hospital on Thursday and the authorities said his condition was "steadily improving."
"When I visited him today, I found him really stable, and I was able to say 'Happy Birthday' and he was able to smile," President Jacob Zuma said, according to the South African Press Association.
"Madiba remains in hospital in Pretoria but his doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving,'' said a statement from Zuma, referring to Mandela by his popular clan name.
"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 hospitalisation and responding to a call to give the beloved figure "the biggest birthday celebration".
Outside the hospital where Mandela was admitted for a recurring lung infection, well-wishers paid tribute to him and some received slices of a large birthday cake doled out from inside the compound.
On Thursday, Mandela's daughter said the leader is making "remarkable progress''.
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 organisers said were the 67 years of public service by Mandela, leader of the fight against white minority rule.
President Jacob Zuma opened low-cost housing for poor black and white families in the Pretoria area. 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.