PRETORIA – Former President Nelson Mandela entered a seventh week in hospital Friday, the day after his 95th birthday was marked by millions of people around the world, heartened by news that the anti-apartheid icon is showing signs of improvement.
Ndileka Mandela said Thursday that her grandfather is “steadily improving” and “using his eyes, nodding.”
That message was echoed by President Jacob Zuma, who said after visiting his predecessor’s Pretoria bedside that he “found him really stable and I was able to say ‘Happy Birthday’ and he was able to smile.”
Mandela was rushed to hospital June 8 with a recurring lung infection that had already put him in hospital three times in less than a year.
Outside the Pretoria facility that has been the focal point of a national vigil for the last 41 days, there were joyous scenes.
Revelers sang anti-apartheid struggle songs, as school children read poems dedicated to a man nearing the end of his long walk that took him from political prisoner to South Africa’s first black president.
“Tata (father) Mandela has once again proved that he is a fighter,” said well-wisher Agnes Shilowane, a local university student.
Thursday’s news was a relief elsewhere in the country to South Africans who marked Mandela Day with a panoply of good deeds.
Biker gangs cleaned streets, volunteers painted schools and politicians spent 67 minutes on worthy projects — all to mark Mandela’s 67 years of public service.