Late birthday wishes for Madiba

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iol news pic Mandela Day late starters REUTERS Well-wishers light candles in front of former President Nelson Mandela's Houghton home in Houghton, Johannesburg. REUTERS/Mujahid Safodien

Pretoria - Well-wishers kept turning up late on Thursday at Pretoria's Mediclinic Heart Hospital, the scene of birthday celebrations for ailing former president Nelson Mandela.

Thousands of South Africans joined many more outside the Celliers Street entrance as the sun set, bringing in biting cold.

A jovial crowd of youths sang a mix of struggle and religious songs while marching within the cordoned-off section.

They were carrying banners and posters of Mandela's face with messages scribbled on most of them.

A group of students and pupils from various schools around Pretoria, wore shirts with the anti-apartheid icon's face on them to join in the celebrations.

Whistles, vuvuzelas, tambourines, accompanied the robust voices from the crowd, singing “senzeni na” among other songs and chanting “Viva Mandela” and “long live Mandela, long live”.

On the side of Celliers Street, generators and lights of television crews came on as international and local journalist prepared for their live crossings, just in time to catch the active crowd in their shots.

Earlier in the day, excitement erupted when Bafana Bafana captain Itumeleng Khune arrived to wish Mandela well on his 95th birthday.

Khune's arrival added to the festive atmosphere as well-wishers gathered around the hospital for Mandela's birthday.

When he left the hospital, police had to intervene as soccer fans crowded his car, shouting and trying to take photographs.

At that stage, traffic in Park Street had momentarily come to stand-still as drivers slowed down in attempt to catch a glimpse of Khune.

Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Tshwane mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa were among the visitors who came out of the facility to greet people in the crowd.

Ramokgopa, Tshwane metro police chief Steven Ngobeni, and city manager Jason Ngobeni signed a photograph of Mandela while the metro police brass band and choir performed.

Mandela is spending his 95th birthday in the Pretoria hospital, where he was admitted on June 8 with a recurring lung infection.

Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj said earlier in the day Mandela's health was steadily improving.

Madikizela-Mandela emerged from the hospital's Park Street entrance with Ramokgopa to display a collage of photographs of Mandela and his family at his birthday celebrations over the past five years.

She did not speak. However, the Mandela family's official photographer Kevin Joseph said the collection of pictures was officially unveiled only on Thursday.

Madikizela-Mandela and Mandela's daughter Makaziwe Mandela arrived at the hospital around 12.30pm.

Minutes later, a woman carrying a massive cake walked towards the hospital entrance.

On Wednesday, Nkosi Vulukhanyo Fadana, a spokesman for the AbaThembu royal house, said it was understood that a lunch would be held at the hospital for Mandela's family and others to mark Mandela's birthday.

President Jacob Zuma and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula stood by a crowd as the military brass band played the national anthem in Mandela's honour. - Sapa

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