(PRETORIA, South Africa) -- Celebrations around the world marked Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday on Thursday, but perhaps the most special one was inside a South African hospital room where the ailing anti-apartheid leader was surrounded by several generations of his family.
“We sang him 'Happy Birthday' and he smiled at us,” said Mandela's grandson, Kweku Mandela.
The former South African president has been hospitalized with a recurring lung infection since June 8.
“He’s still critical but stable, and we’ve been seeing slow but improving signs,” Kweku said. “We’re all confident that he’ll eventually come back home and his condition will improve quite drastically.”
Kweku, a filmmaker, said he still sees the same resilient spirit in his grandfather that helped him survive 27 years in prison.
“He’s a fighter and he continues to be one,” he said. “I think that it’s just the belief in knowing who he is and knowing who we are as people that gives me comfort to say that he’ll fight through this and he’ll be OK.”
Ndileka Mandela, the former South African president’s granddaughter, said the first time she met her grandfather -- who she had viewed as “kind of a myth” -- was at the prison where he was held on Robben Island.
“It was amazing, but my one regret was that I wished I could touch him,” she said, recalling how he greeted her with a kiss on a glass panel that separated inmates from their visitors.
Family, she said, is something that has always anchored Nelson, who urged his grandchildren to get educations.
“Every time you would sit with him, he would tell you, ‘Without education, nobody will take you seriously,’” Ndileka said.
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