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PRETORIA (Reuters) - Anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela is "steadily improving", South Africa's government said on Thursday as the former president celebrated his 95th birthday in hospital showered by tributes from around the world.
Thousands of South Africans led the global outpouring of support for the man regarded as the father of the multiracial 'Rainbow Nation" established in 1994 when he was elected its first black president at the end of apartheid.
He has been receiving intensive treatment since June 8 for a recurring lung infection, his fourth stay in hospital in six months.
While many carried out volunteer work on U.N.-declared Nelson Mandela Day, his daughter Zindzi led government workers in singing "Happy Birthday" to the
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, one of numerous celebrations across the country.
"His doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving," President Jacob Zuma's office said in a statement.
"On behalf of government and all the people of South Africa, we wish Madiba a joyous 95th birthday," it said using Mandela's traditional clan name.
The fragile health of Mandela, who for weeks has been in a critical condition, has served as a reminder of the mortality of the man globally admired as a symbol of struggle against injustice and of racial reconciliation.
Many in South Africa celebrated Mandela Day with 67 minutes of public service to honor the 67 years Mandela served humanity by first fighting against white-minority rule and then consolidating racial harmony when he was president.
His former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela called the 95th birthday "a gift to the nation".
"There are some prophets of doom who say the country will come to a standstill (when he dies)," she told Talk Radio 702.
"The country will continue as it has always done. If anything, the country will solidify, come together and carry on."