Anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela has spent his 95th birthday in hospital in Pretoria as millions of children in South Africa began school Thursday singing “Happy Birthday” to Madiba or “Father of the Nation.”
Zindzi Mandela, daughter of the first black South African president, told British television Wednesday that her father has made “dramatic” progress and is watching television with headphones in his hospital bed and that he smiles at family members and raises his hand. She also said that he might be able to return “any time soon."
Mandela, who overcame 27 years in jail to become South Africa’s first black president and bring an end to decades of whites-only rule, was admitted to hospital in early June for recurring lung infections he first developed during his time in prison. South Africans, who revered Mandela for his sacrifice to achieve a free and democratic society in which all person live together in harmony and equal opportunity, are relieved to hear that he is no longer in critical condition.
South African President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela in the hospital Thursday morning. He emerged from the hospital parking lot, and he stood, looking grave, hand on heart, in front of an honor guard while a brass band played South Africa’s national anthem, according to Los Angeles Times.
The crowd then sang a deafening “Happy Birthday” to the strains of the brass band, in honor of Mandela.
Zuma released a statement confirming that Mandela health is steadily improving.
“On behalf of government and all the people of South Africa, 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.
"We thank all our people for supporting Madiba throughout the hospitalization with undying love and compassion. We also thank all for responding to the call to give Madiba the biggest birthday celebration ever this year. Happy 95th Birthday Tata Madiba!" wrote Zuma. Mandela’s clan name, or “tata,” which means “father” in his native tongue, Xhosa.
For more than a month now, throngs of well-wishers have gathered outside the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, praying for the health recovery of the former President.
Church groups, families, even a motorcycle club assembled in front of the Pretoria hospital, according to NPR. Bouquets of flowers, a Bible, portraits of Mandela, and candles were placed in front of a wall plastered with hundreds of mementos of Mandela, many of them addressed to “Mandiba,”
South African newspapers marked the day with banner headlines.
Around the nation, South Africans contributed 67 minutes of community service to honor Mandela’s 67 years of public service. Many distributed food to the homeless, picked up rubbish, cycled to collect money for charity, cleaned hospitals or did work in homes for the elderly, disabled or orphans.