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Mandela 'improving' as he turns 95


Nelson Mandela is celebrating his 95th birthday (AP)

Nelson Mandela is celebrating his 95th birthday (AP)

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Nelson Mandela is celebrating his 95th birthday (AP)

South Africa has been celebrating Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday, a milestone capped by news that the former president's health was improving after fears that he was close to death during ongoing hospital treatment.

"Madiba remains in hospital in Pretoria but his doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving," said a statement from President Jacob Zuma, referring to Mr Mandela by his popular clan name. "We are proud to call this international icon our own as South Africans and wish him good health," Mr Zuma said in the statement.

He thanked South Africans for supporting Mr Mandela during his time in hospital with "undying love and compassion" and responding to a call to give the beloved figure "the biggest birthday celebration ever this year".

Mr Mandela was taken to hospital on June 8 for treatment for a recurring lung infection. In previous announcements, the government said he was in a critical but stable condition. Court documents filed by Mr Mandela's family earlier this month had said he was on life support and near death.

Mr Mandela is making "remarkable progress", said one of his daughters, Zindzi, after tense weeks in which some South Africans talked about the possibility that Mr Mandela was on the verge of dying. "We look forward to having him back at home soon," the South African Press Association quoted Zindzi Mandela as saying during the government roll-out of a digital ID card system in Pretoria, the South African capital. She was handed a replica of Mr Mandela's new ID card during the ceremony.

Schools around South Africa honoured the anti-apartheid leader in special assemblies, and many people volunteered 67 minutes for charitable activities to match what organisers said were the 67 years of public service by Mr Mandela, leader of the fight against white minority rule. Activities were also planned at the United Nations headquarters in New York City and other parts of the world.

Elsewhere in South Africa, social workers, military commanders and others joined in planting trees, painting hospices, and donating food, blankets and other basic necessities in poor areas. Doctors also administered eye tests and other medical treatments to the needy.

Meanwhile, as the United Nations celebrated an ailing Mr Mandela's 95th birthday, former US president Bill Clinton recalled the day Mr Mandela walked out of prison at last. Years later Mr Clinton asked him if he allowed himself to hate his captors. For a brief moment, the man who became a symbol of peace allowed himself to hate, he told Mr Clinton. Then he let go.

"He said, 'People can take everything. I lost my family, the chance to see my children grow up, the best years of my life. They can take everything except your mind and your heart, those things I decided not to give away'," Mr Clinton said. "He looked at me and smiled and he said, 'Neither should you'."

The lesson, Mr Clinton said, was simple. "You can't free anybody else, and you can't serve anybody else, unless first you free yourself from bitterness and hatred and resentment, and the paralysis they bring," he said. "Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years a greater man than when he went in."