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A banner for Nelson Mandela was put up at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, ahead of his birthday today.

Schalk van Zuydam • AP,

On eve of 95th birthday, Mandela makes dramatic improvement

  • Article by: Robyn Dixon
  • Los Angeles Times
  • July 17, 2013 - 7:47 PM

- Three weeks ago, ­Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero, seemed at death’s door. A family affidavit presented in a court hearing the following week said he was on life support and described his demise as “impending.”

On Wednesday, the eve of his 95th birthday, Mandela was watching television with headphones on, his daughter Zindzi Mandela said.

Describing what she said was a dramatic improvement in Mandela’s health, Zindzi Mandela said on British television, “I should think he will be going home anytime soon.”

Mandela has been hospitalized since June 8 with a lung infection, the latest in a series in recent months.

His daughter said he was regaining strength and energy.

“He gave us a huge smile and raised his hand,” she said, although he is still unable to speak. “He responds with his eyes and his hands.”

Mandela has been in critical condition for weeks; the first indication that he might leave the hospital came Saturday from Mandela’s successor as president, Thabo Mbeki.

The previous week, old friends Denis Goldberg and Ahmed Kathrada said Mandela, though still in critical condition, recognized them and responded with his eyes, because he had a tube in his throat. It was unclear ­Wednesday whether he remained on a respirator.

“It was an overwhelming feeling of sadness, and of course the unrealistic wish and prayer that he can be with us for longer and longer,” ­Kathrada said last week.

Mandela’s illness has prompted a massive outpouring of hope, goodwill and sadness. A wall of tribute sprang up at the hospital, with thousands of letters and flowers. Families arrived to pray, read the letters and talk about him.

Schoolchildren and choirs sang; people released doves and balloons; and preachers prayed for him.

On July 4, Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, offered a sliver of hope, saying, he “is sometimes uncomfortable; sometimes he is in pain, but he is fine.”

South Africans have been preparing a wide range of special tributes to mark his birthday. A huge celebration of his life and legacy is expected, with songs in his name, a giant birthday card and works of art and charity.

© 2014 Star Tribune