South Africans have received some welcome news as the country marks the 95th birthday of former President Nelson Mandela. The anti-apartheid icon has spent weeks in the hospital battling a recurring lung infection.
A statement released by the office of current President Jacob Zuma on Thursday gave South Africans renewed hope for the recovery of their former leader.
"Madiba remains in hospital in Pretoria, but his doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving," said the statement, which referred to Mandela using his traditional clan name.
"We are proud to call this international icon our own as South Africans and wish him good health," Zuma added, while wishing Mandela a "joyous" 95th birthday.
On Wednesday, Mandela's daughter Zindzi had also said in an interview that her father's condition was improving and that he could be going home "anytime soon."
However, there was no indication from doctors that his condition had changed from critical but stable, which is how they have described the state of his health much of the time since he was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on June 8. Mandela has been hospitalized a number of times since late last year for treatment for a recurring lung infection.
67 minutes for a good cause
To mark Mandela's birthday, students across the country attended school assemblies and many people were expected to spend 67 minutes of the day doing volunteer work for a charity. Numerous groups called on individuals to donate their time to honor the 67 years they say he served his country.
Among the first to congratulate Mandela was US President Barack Obama.
"On behalf of our family and the people of the United States, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes and prayers to Nelson Mandela," a statement released by the White House late on Wednesday said.
"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," it added.
In 1994, Mandela became South Africa's first black president, having won the country's first fully multi-racial election. He served just one term in office, stepping down in 1999. He had been released from prison in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars after being convicted of conspiracy to overthrow South Africa's apartheid government.
pfd/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)