JOHANNESBURG -- Hospital visitors say Nelson Mandela smiled and nodded yesterday, his 95th birthday, and South Africans celebrated upbeat reports about the former president's health after weeks of worrying that he was on the verge of death.
Children sang "Happy Birthday" at school assemblies nationwide, and many honored the man known as "the father of the nation" by performing acts of charity for 67 minutes, symbolizing Mandela's 67 years of public service.
World leaders praised the anti-apartheid leader's life of sacrifice and vision.
Outside the Pretoria hospital where Mandela was admitted for a recurring lung infection, well-wishers paid tribute and some received slices of a large birthday cake doled out from inside the compound.
"We don't only recognize him on this day. We put smiles on other people's faces, we donate to other people less fortunate," said Thato Williams, 13, a student at Melpark Primary School in Johannesburg, where 700 students gathered in a hall with posters created to honor Mandela's contributions to peace and education.
Mandela remains fragile, and many details of his medical condition have not been divulged.
The news that his health had improved was another dramatic turn in the life of a man who became a global figure of sacrifice and reconciliation during the fight against white minority rule in South Africa.
"When I visited him today, I found him really stable, and I was able to say, 'Happy Birthday,' and he was able to smile," President Jacob Zuma said, according to the South African Press Association.
His office had said Mandela's condition was critical but stable, but a statement yesterday said he was improving.