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World to celebrate ailing Mandela's 95th birthday on Thursday

A photo taken on July 14, 2013 shows a wellwishing message for former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Medi Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
A photo taken on July 14, 2013 shows a wellwishing message for former South African President Nelson Mandela outside the Medi Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
A man signs a large birthday card on July 14, 2013 at Loftus Satdium in Pretoria for ailing former South African president Nelson Mandela's upcoming July 18 birthday, after a friendly football match between Pretoria's Supersport United and Manchester
A man signs a large birthday card on July 14, 2013 at Loftus Satdium in Pretoria for ailing former South African president Nelson Mandela's upcoming July 18 birthday, after a friendly football match between Pretoria's Supersport United and Manchester City, during an invitational in support of Mandela Day 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
A well-wisher gestures after signing a giant birthday card for Nelson Mandela's birthday on July 18, at the end of a soccer match between Manchester City and South Africa's Supersport United in support of the Nelson Mandela Football Invitational socc
A well-wisher gestures after signing a giant birthday card for Nelson Mandela's birthday on July 18, at the end of a soccer match between Manchester City and South Africa's Supersport United in support of the Nelson Mandela Football Invitational soccer at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, on July 14, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
A man signs a large birthday card on July 14, 2013 at Loftus Satdium in Pretoria for ailing former South African president Nelson Mandela's upcoming July 18 birthday, after a friendly football match between Pretoria's Supersport United and Manchester
A man signs a large birthday card on July 14, 2013 at Loftus Satdium in Pretoria for ailing former South African president Nelson Mandela's upcoming July 18 birthday, after a friendly football match between Pretoria's Supersport United and Manchester City, during an invitational in support of Mandela Day 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
A well-wisher signs on a giant birthday card for Nelson Mandela's birthday on July 18, at the end of a soccer match between Manchester City and South Africa's Supersport United in support of the Nelson Mandela Football Invitational soccer at Loftus V
A well-wisher signs on a giant birthday card for Nelson Mandela's birthday on July 18, at the end of a soccer match between Manchester City and South Africa's Supersport United in support of the Nelson Mandela Football Invitational soccer at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, on July 14, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
A chef and volunteer from Cupcakes 4 Kids with Cancer, raises his hand as he completes the last finishing touch on cakes to form a giant portrait of former president Nelson Mandela at a shopping mall in Johannesburg on Saturday, July 13, 2013, in cel
A chef and volunteer from Cupcakes 4 Kids with Cancer, raises his hand as he completes the last finishing touch on cakes to form a giant portrait of former president Nelson Mandela at a shopping mall in Johannesburg on Saturday, July 13, 2013, in celebration of Mandela's birthday next week. -- FILE PHOTO: AP

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Global celebrations and charity events will mark Mr Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday on Thursday, but the critically ill anti-apartheid hero himself may still be confined to his Pretoria hospital bed on life-support.

Volunteers will spend 67 minutes on hundreds of community upliftment projects - a minute for every year of his activism.

But his hospitalisation for a recurring lung infection and bitter infighting among his relatives have tempered the festive spirit.

The United Nations in 2010 declared the Nobel peace laureate's birthday Mandela Day - to encourage people around the world to do just over an hour of good deeds.

Global celebrities have supported the campaign in memory of Mr Mandela's 67 years of political activism.

"I will also be giving my 67 minutes to make the world a better place, one small step at a time," British business magnate Richard Branson pledged in a recorded message.

On Thursday, children in schools around South Africa will start their classes singing "Happy Birthday" to the former statesman. Celebrities have committed to painting schools, handing out clothes to impoverished kids and countless similar projects.

The inauguration of the Nelson Mandela Legacy Bridge is scheduled at the icon's birth village, Mvezo, in the rural Eastern Cape province.

A science-specialisation high school bearing his name is also due to be opened.

In the United States meanwhile, 17 cities have planned various activities Thursday.

On Saturday, Australian city Melbourne will hold a concert featuring local and African artists, while a music festival later this year in Norway will promote equality in schools.

Born July 18 in 1918, imprisoned 46 years later, Mandela went on to lead black South Africans' struggle for equal rights with whites.

He was convicted of treason in 1964 and spent the next 27 years in jail.

After his release Mandela skillfully negotiated with the apartheid minority government to end whites-only rule.

He became South Africa's first black president after all-race elections in 1994 and led reconciliation in the deeply divided country.

Mr Mandela's peace-making spirit has won him worldwide respect.

"Never before in history was one human being so universally acknowledged in his lifetime as the embodiment of magnanimity and reconciliation as Nelson Mandela," archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, himself a Nobel peace laureate, said.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said her family had been inspired by "a man who personifies the best of humanity.

"He is proof that even the most intractable problems are surmountable, that division can be overcome with dignity and forgiveness can triumph over fear," said Mrs Clinton.

But the ailing icon is bound to spend his birthday in the hospital where he has been for the past six weeks, breathing with the help of a machine.

Almost a month ago, the presidency announced that his condition had worsened. But it has denied he is in a "vegetative state", as his family claimed in court documents dated June 26.

His health has recently improved, according to official statements and comments from family and friends.

His successor as president, Thabo Mbeki, even suggested he might be discharged from hospital in time to spend his birthday at home.

As Mr Nelson Mandela fights for his life, members of his family are fighting amongst themselves.

It recently emerged that grandson Mandla Mandela had moved three graves of Mr Mandela's children, from the icon's childhood village of Qunu to his own Mvezo village, without consent of the rest of the family.

Fifteen relatives, including Mr Nelson Mandela's wife Graca and three daughters, accused Mandla of trying to force Mr Mandela's eventual burial to be in Mvezo.

Mr Mandela has previously expressed the wish to be buried with his family in Qunu.

The relatives won a court battle against Mandla, and the graves were forcibly returned.

Mandla subsequently attacked his relatives in a televised press conference, accusing his aunt, Mandela's oldest daughter Makawize, of sowing divisions in the most famous family of South Africa.

Tutu finally had to appeal to the family not to besmirch Mr Mandela's name.

But the messy public dispute showed how difficult it is for even Mr Mandela's own family to live up to his principles of humility and unity.