Hospitalised Mandela sees spate of tributes on 95th birthday

Nelson Mandela South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela will spend his 95th birthday today in a hospital in Pretoria, as events take place in South Africa around the world and in his honour.

Mandela is in critical but stable condition with a recurring lung infection. He has been in hospital since 8 June.

President Jacob Zuma said his health was "steadily improving".

"We are proud to call this international icon our own as South Africans and wish him good health," Zuma said in a statement.

"We thank all our people for supporting Madiba throughout the hospitalisation with undying love and compassion," he said, referring to Mandela's clan name.

Mandela's daughter Zindzi said on Wednesday he had made "dramatic progress", and that she had found him watching television with headphones on and communicating with his eyes and hands when she visited him this week.

"I should think he will be going home anytime soon,'' she told the UK's Sky News television.

South Africans are being urged to match the former president's 67 years of public service with 67 minutes of charitable acts.

Mandela's birthday is also Nelson Mandela International Day, a day declared by the UN as a way to recognise the Nobel Prize winner's contribution to reconciliation.

After leading the fight against apartheid, Mandela went on to become South Africa's first black president in the country's first all-race elections in 1994.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC), founded by Mandela, said that on this Mandela Day homage was being paid to 95 years of "life well-lived", dedicated to the liberation of South Africans and people all over the world.

Barack Obama was the first among global leaders to send his greetings. The US President, who visited South Africa last month but was unable to meet Mandela, was fulsome in his praise of Madiba, as he too called Mandela.

President Zuma plans to mark the occasion by overseeing the donation of houses to poor white families in the Pretoria area.

The ANC said that on this Mandela Day homage was being paid to 95 years of life well lived, dedicated to the liberation of South Africans and people all over the world.

Well-wishers have been gathering outside Mandela's hospital leaving messages of support.

Events are also taking place internationally, with an image of a large Mandela painting by South African artist Paul Blomkamp featured in New York's Times Square.

British entrepreneur Richard Branson has pledged 67 minutes of community service on Thursday to "make the world a better place, one small step at a time", he said in a recorded message.

Meanwhile, concerts are planned later this week in the Australian city of Melbourne, featuring local and African artists.

His illness gives extra poignancy to this year's Mandela Day, correspondents say.