For months, the news of Nelson Mandela has focused on his health and hospitalizations. But South Africa is now undergoing a host of celebrations for the 95th birthday of its first Black president as July 17 takes on the atmosphere of a national holiday.
The celebrations come at the same time as reports of improvements in Mandela’s health. His daughter, Zindzi, said that the onetime anti-apartheid leader had been making “dramatic progress” and that he might be released from the hospital to go home “anytime soon.”
In an interview with Sky TV in Britain, she said, “I visited him yesterday and he was watching television with headphones.” She added, “He gave us a huge smile and raised his hand ... He responds with his eyes and his hands.”
Meanwhile, Mandela’s birthday has become an occasion of celebration not just in South Africa, but around the world. In fact, in 2009 the United Nations declared Thursday to be a day to recognize the contributions of the former head of state and Nobel Peace Prize recipient to the cause of reconciliation.
Within South Africa, several service-oriented commemorations are planned. In one, a foundation based in Johannesburg has requested that people volunteer to contribute 67 minutes to charity. The number symbolizes the 67 years that Mandela served his nation.
President Jacob Zuma has announced that he will commemorate Mandela’s birthday by overseeing the donation of several low-income white families near Pretoria.
In the Cape Town area, a group of labor leaders and workers are encouraging South Africans to donate food to needy families while writing messages of encouragement to the family of Mandela.
Mandela has received audio messages from leaders around the world, ranging from former President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama to business magnate Richard Branson and President Obama.
Mandela has been hospitalized for much of the last few months, having been treated for a recurring lung infection.
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(Photo: Reuters Photographer / Reuters)