Johannesburg: South Africa Thursday celebrated the 95th birthday of former president Nelson Mandela's with the good news that the ailing anti-apartheid hero's health condition has steadily improved.
South Africans got united to celebrate the democracy icon's birthday in diverse ways not seen since the euphoria of the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted in the African country.
Mandela, regarded the founding father of South Africa's multi-racial democracy, was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on June 8 for a recurring lung infection. Mandela has been hospitalised four times since December.
School children across the country kicked off the celebrations by singing "Happy Birthday" to their beloved Madiba, as the revered global statesman is fondly known.
Mandela's birthday has been designated International Mandela Day by the United Nations.
A "67 minutes for Mandela campaign" was also launched in South Africa, encouraging all citizens to donate 67 minutes of their time in some form of community service to mark the number of years he spent fighting to end apartheid and bring democracy to South Africa.
Even as Mandela spent his 41st day in a Pretoria hospital, hundreds of people gathered outside the hospital carrying messages of goodwill and flowers for Mandela.
President Jacob Zuma today wished the founding father of the nation a "joyous" birthday. "Madiba remains in hospital in Pretoria but his doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving," said a statement issued by the office of Zuma.
"...we wish Madiba a joyous 95th birthday. We are proud to call this international icon our own as South Africans and wish him good health," Zuma said.
Mandela had a long history of lung problems, dating back to the time when he was a political prisoner on Robben Island during apartheid. While in jail he contracted tuberculosis.
Mandela is revered for leading the fight against white minority rule in the African country and then preaching reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years.
He served as the country's first black president from 1994 to 1999. He left power after five years as president.
Mandela, respected across the globe as a symbol of resistance against injustice, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He retired from public life in 2004 and has not been seen in public since the football World Cup final in 2010.