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A walk to remember: Students walk to former South African President Nelson Mandela‘s Soweto home outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, on his 95th birthday, on Thursday. South Africa celebrated with acts of charity, a milestone capped by news that the former president’s health was improving after fears he was close to death during ongoing hospital treatment. (AP/Jerome Delay)
A walk to remember: Students walk to former South African President Nelson Mandela‘s Soweto home outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, on his 95th birthday, on Thursday. South Africa celebrated with acts of charity, a milestone capped by news that the former president’s health was improving after fears he was close to death during ongoing hospital treatment. (AP/Jerome Delay)

South Africa and the world showered tributes on Nelson Mandela on Thursday as the anti-apartheid leader turned 95 in hospital and his doctors reported he was “steadily improving” from a six-week lung infection.

The country has been on edge since the former president and father of the multi-racial “Rainbow Nation” established when the apartheid ended in 1994, was admitted to hospital on June 8 with recurring lung problems that kept him in a critical condition.

Despite his condition, the mood was of celebration on Thursday as thousands of South Africans sang “Happy Birthday” and took part in charitable initiatives in a global outpouring of support for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on UN-designated Nelson Mandela Day, Reuters reported.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed Mandela as “a giant of our times” and called on people around the world to pay tribute to him through community service.

South Africans young and old commemorated the birthday with 67 minutes of public service to honour the 67 years Mandela served humanity by first fighting against white-minority rule and then consolidating racial harmony when he was president.

The United Nations declared July 18 as Nelson Mandela International Day in 2009 and will celebrate with speeches from figures such as former US President Bill Clinton.

The day will also be marked in nearly 20 US cities with ceremonies around Capitol Hill in Washington and by volunteers handing out South African oranges in New York.

Indonesia also celebrated Nelson Mandela Day for the first time on Thursday. “The figure of Mandela embodies the principles of the United Nations [UN] concerning dignity, freedom and struggle for justice,” United Nations Information Center (UNIC) Jakarta head Michele Zaccheo said during the 2013 Indonesia Commemoration of Nelson Mandela Day at the UNIC office in Jakarta.

“The movement started to gain fame in 2010 throughout the world by conducting public services,” Zaccheo added.

He hoped that Indonesians, specifically young people would spread the idea of volunteerism as a way to promote solidarity.

Mandela, who was born in South Africa on July 18, 1918 in Mveso, South Africa, has a long history of lung infection, and was diagnosed with tuberculosis in the 1980s while serving his time in prison in Robben Island, South Africa.

Present at Thursday’s commemoration was South African Ambassador to Indonesia Noel N. Lehoko who described Mandela as a humble, highly intelligent, loving, consistent and great leader.

“He fought consistently against injustice for all people without race to make everybody equal,” Lehoko said.

Foreign Ministry director of African affairs, Lasro Simbolon, said that Indonesia and South Africa only established a formal relationship in 1994, but he said that ties between the two had been very strong. “We are very proud to see a great man like Mandela loves wearing Batik,” Lasro said.

He added that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently sent a letter expressing profound prayer for the speedy recovery of Mandela to South African President Jacob Zuma. (hrl)

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