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Mandela better as world celebrates 95th birthday

Lydia Polgreen
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Schools across South Africa paid tribute to their former President on Mandela Day; appeal to devote 67 minutes

Well-wishers display on Thursday a large banner of Nelson Mandela outside a hospital in Pretoria, where the former South African President is being treated.— Photo: AP
Well-wishers display on Thursday a large banner of Nelson Mandela outside a hospital in Pretoria, where the former South African President is being treated.— Photo: AP

After weeks of battling a critical illness, Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and an emblem of its struggle against apartheid, spent his 95th birthday in a hospital on Thursday, according to authorities, who said his condition was steadily improving.

The assessment comes in the wake of weeks of global concern that Mr. Mandela might not recover from a lung infection that had forced him to be hospitalised, on June 8, for the fourth time this year. Previously, authorities had described his condition as critical but stable.

Thursday was also Mandela Day, when schools across South Africa paid tribute to the former president at morning assemblies. Many organisations called for people to volunteer 67 minutes of their time to mark Mr. Mandela’s 67 years of public service.

In a statement, President Jacob Zuma wished Mr. Mandela a happy birthday and said: “Madiba [Mr. Mandela’s clan name] remains in hospital in Pretoria but his doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving.”

“On behalf of the government and all the people of South Africa, we wish Madiba a joyous 95th birthday,” the statement said.

Little is known about the details of his medical condition.

A court affidavit, filed in June in a dispute within Mr. Mandela’s family over where he might be buried, claimed he was in a permanent vegetative state, but both family and medical team members denied this. Family members and friends who had visited Mr. Mandela more recently say he was, at times, awake, smiling, communicating with his eyes and even trying to talk.

In an interview with Britain’s Sky News, Mr. Mandela’s daughter Zindzi Mandela-Motlhajwa said on Wednesday that Mr. Mandela was watching television and using headphones to hear the sound.

Since 2009, the United Nations has recognised July 18 as Nelson Mandela International Day. — New York Times News Service


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