The former South African president, who has been seriously ill, is honored in ways big and small
Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko/Landov

Nelson Mandela is celebrating his 95th birthday on Thursday – a day that’s being met with gleeful celebrations in South Africa and around the world by well-wishers ecstatic that the ailing leader has reached another milestone.

The scene outside the hospital in Pretoria where Mandela is being treated has been particularly joyous, as children danced and held balloons and flowers in front of giant, colorful get-well-soon cards.

Mandela’s birthday, July 18, is a kind of global holiday, known as International Mandela Day, which honors the former South Africa president’s legacy by encouraging people to volunteer, do community service and offer small acts of kindness.

Mandela Day events were in full swing all across South Africa on Thursday, with adults and children chipping in on beautification projects and feeding the hungry at soup kitchens. Participants are asked to start with 67 minutes of volunteering to honor Mandela’s 67 years of service.

Among those promoting Mandela Day are the actor Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mandela in the 2009 film Invictus and says in a new video: “We encourage everyone around the world to pledge 67 minutes. Join us to honor this great man.”

Mandela, an anti-apartheid revolutionary and one of great social and humanitarian figures of the 20th century, has been critically ill in recent weeks but is said to have been improving over the past several days.