Mandela's health rallies as South Africa celebrates his 95th birthday

Milestone capped by news that the former president's health was improving after fears that he was close to death in recent weeks.

Children gather to celebrate the 95th birthday of their “Father of the Nation”, Nelson Mandela, outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital where he is being treated.
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JOHANNESBURG // South Africa celebrated Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday with acts of charity yesterday, a milestone capped by news that the former president's health was improving after fears that he was close to death in recent weeks.

"He continues to respond positively to treatment and we are encouraged by the progress he is making," President Jacob Zuma said after visiting Mr Mandela.

The anti-apartheid leader was taken to a Pretoria hospital on June 8 for treatment for a recurring lung infection.

A statement from the presidency said Mr Mandela's health was improving. In previous announcements, it said he was in critical but stable condition.

Court documents filed by Mr Mandela's family earlier this month had said he was on life support.

Mr Mandela is making "remarkable progress", one of his daughters, Zindzi said yesterday.

Ndileka Mandela, a granddaughter of Mr Mandela, poured soup for poor children at a charity event and said her family had been unsure about whether her grandfather would live to see his birthday.

"But because of the fighter that he is, he was able to fight a repressive system, and he was able, through God and everybody's prayers, to make it today," she said.

Yesterday was also the 15th wedding anniversary of Mr 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.

Many South Africans volunteered 67 minutes for charity to match what organisers said were the 67 years of public service by Mr Mandela, leader of the fight against white minority rule.

"We don't only recognise 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 honour at Melpark Primary School in Johannesburg. Some 700 students there sang "Happy Birthday" in a hall filled with posters created to honour Mandela's contributions to peace and education.

Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu helped to paint a school outside Cape Town, saying Mr Mandela makes South Africans "walk tall" and urging compatriots to refrain from divisive behaviour.

Elsewhere, social workers, military commanders and private company employees others planted trees, cleaned classrooms and donated food, blankets and other basic necessities in poor areas. Doctors administered eye tests, inoculations and other medical treatments.

Visiting Pretoria, European Union President Herman Van Rompuy packed food parcels and said his two sons were fans of Mr Mandela, whom he described as "the brightest son of South Africa".

Mandela was jailed for 27 years under apartheid and led a difficult transition from apartheid to democracy, becoming president in all-race elections in 1994. "South Africa is a better place today than it was in 1994 and this is because of the contribution made by Madiba and his collective," the ruling African National Congress, once led by Mr Mandela, said.