Pretoria: People across the globe on Thursday joined South Africans in celebrating the 95th birthday of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, with the good news that the ailing peace icon`s medical condition has "steadily" improved from a life-threatening lung infection.
South Africans commemorated the country`s first black president`s birthday with 67 minutes of public service as part of the Mandela Day initiative to honour the 67 years he spent working for the African nation.
The celebrations united South Africans in diverse ways not seen since the euphoria of the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by the 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.
Well-wishers gathered outside the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria to wish the former president a happy birthday. A variety of renditions of `Happy Birthday` were sung at the Celliers Street entrance to the hospital.
Earlier, school children across the country kicked off the celebrations by singing "Happy Birthday" to their beloved Madiba, as the revered statesman is fondly known by his clan name in the country.
Mandela`s birthday has also been designated International Mandela Day by the United Nations.
President Jacob Zuma today visited the hospital to wish Mandela on his birthday.
Upon his arrival at the hospital, a military brass band played the national anthem before a large crowd which had gathered to wish Mandela.
Zuma, earlier in a statement issued by his office, 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," Zuma said in a statement.
"...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.
Previously, the presidency had been maintaining that Mandela was in a critical but stable condition while court documents had said he was on life support and near death.
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.
Mandela became the first recipient of South Africa`s new Smart ID Card, introduced today. On Mandela`s behalf, his daughter Zindzi was handed a replica of the card by former president Thabo Mbeki.
US President Barack Obama wished Mandela and called on people to honour the South African leader by taking part in Nelson Mandela Day.
"On behalf of our family and the people of the United States, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes and prayers to Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 95th birthday, as well as to Graca Machel, the Mandela family....," Obama said in a statement.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, on his official Twitter handle, said, "Wishing Nelson Mandela a happy 95th birthday. His msg that each individual has power to transform the world still inspires #MandelaDay."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed Mandela as "a giant of our times" and appealed to the people across the globe to honour him through community service.
Meanwhile, Zindzi said her father had made "dramatic progress". "I should think he will be going home anytime soon," she told Sky News television.
"I visited him yesterday (Tuesday) and he was watching television with headphones," said Zindzi said. "He gave us a huge smile and raised his hand... He responds with his eyes and his hands."
Today also marked the 15th anniversary of Mandela`s marriage to Graca Machel, his third wife.
Earlier, Zuma handed over houses to a community of poor white people, previously privileged above the needs of the majority Black community, at a Pretoria township not far from the hospital Mandela is still recovering in.
At Inanda near Durban, the historic site where the founding president of the African National Congress John Dube and Mahatma Gandhi worked side by side, people were given the opportunity to leave tributes and messages on the Mandela Tribute Wall.
The site, next to Gandhi`s Phoenix Settlement, is where Mandela first cast his vote in 1994 to usher in democratic South Africa to become the country`s first Black president after spending 27 years in prison.
Two South African Indian singers, Ramesh Hassan in Durban and Ganie Parker in Cape Town, have independently of each other composed special songs in tribute to Mandela. Parker`s entertaining music video, in Urdu, incorporating cartoon animals, while Hassan`s song is in Urdu, Zulu and English.