PRETORIA, South Africa, July 18, 2013— -- Thousands of South Africans have braved the winter cold to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday. The street outside the Pretoria Heart Hospital where he remains was flooded with marching bands, children, international media and well-wishers.
South African President Jacob Zuma watched as a military marching band played happy birthday and the national anthem. Family members have planned a birthday lunch at the hospital complete with 95 cupcakes that will have images of the Mandela family members.
South Africans have been asked to celebrate Mandela's birthday, which has been declared Mandela Day, by offering 67 minutes of their time for charity projects or community service. Sixty-seven is the number of years Mandela served his country, first as an activist and campaigner for equal rights, then as a political prisoner and, finally, as his country's first democratically elected president.
Mandela remains in critical but stable condition. President Jacob Zuma this morning said Mandela is on a steady recovery. Family members are also optimistic about his health.
"To see granddad fighting the way he's fought is truly unprecedented," said Ndelika Mandela, Mandela's granddaughter in an interview with ABC News. "I know what he's ailing from would've knocked people far younger than him. He's the master of his destiny. Whichever way he chooses to bow out will be on his own terms."
President Obama released a statement saying his family was deeply moved by their recent visit to Robben Island.
"We will forever draw strength and inspiration from his extraordinary example of moral courage, kindness and humility," the president and Michelle Obama said in a statement.
Today also marks the 15th wedding anniversary for Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel. They were married on his 80th birthday.
"She's been a tremendous partner to him," said Mac Maharaj, Zuma spokesman and a former Mandela adviser. "I think one sees it in the way he needs her around him all the time. For her to be there, we have to be grateful."