Former president Nelson Mandela. File photo: Independent Newspapers
Former president Nelson Mandela. File photo: Independent Newspapers
17/07/2013. Masana Ngobeni who turns 1 today(Thur) looks at the picture of former president Nelson Mandela who is turning 95

Picture: Masi Losi
17/07/2013. Masana Ngobeni who turns 1 today(Thur) looks at the picture of former president Nelson Mandela who is turning 95 Picture: Masi Losi

Johannesburg -

The health of former president Nelson Mandela, who turns 95 on Thursday, is “steadily improving”, the presidency said.

“Madiba remains in hospital in Pretoria, but his doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving,” spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.

Mandela was admitted into a Pretoria hospital on June 8 with a recurring lung infection.

Until now, his condition has been described as critical but stable.

President Jacob Zuma said: “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.”

In 2009, July 18 was declared as Mandela Day to honour the former statesman, with people encouraged to dedicate 67 minutes of their time to nation-building and charity in recognition of his service towards securing democracy and restoring human dignity.

“We thank all our people for supporting Madiba throughout the hospitalisation with undying love and compassion,” said Zuma.

“We also thank all for responding to the call to give Madiba the biggest birthday celebration ever this year.”

US President Barack Obama also paid warm tribute to Mandela for his birthday.

Obama, who visited South Africa last month but was unable to see Mandela because of his illness, was fulsome in his praise of the former statesman, referring to him by his clan name, Madiba.

“Our family was deeply moved by our visit to Madiba's former cell on Robben Island during our recent trip to South Africa, and we will forever draw strength and inspiration from his extraordinary example of moral courage, kindness, and humility,” Obama said in a statement.

The US president called on people to honour the elderly leader by taking part in Nelson Mandela Day on Thursday, when admirers around the world will uphold his legacy with charitable acts.

Children in schools around the country will kick off the day by singing “Happy Birthday” to Madiba, who also marks 15th anniversary of his marriage to third wife Graca Machel.

The government will also host a ceremony for the symbolic handing over of Mandela's new high-tech ID card, which will be received by his daughter Zindzi.

Global luminaries, pop stars and ordinary people around the world have joined South Africans in pledging support for Mandela on his birthday.

“I will also be giving my 67 minutes to make the world a better place, one small step at a time,” British business magnate Richard Branson vowed in a recorded message. - Sapa-AFP