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Business Day: Supporters Across Globe Expected to Celebrate Nelson Mandela's Life

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Location: Unknown

By Nadia Neophytou

Former US president Bill Clinton and socially conscious musician Harry Belafonte will participate in an informal meeting of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to mark International Nelson Mandela Day on Thursday.

Several countries, including the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US, will participate in events to mark the former president's birthday.

"Nelson Mandela gave 67 years of his life to the struggle for human rights and social justice. In marking this day, the UN is joining the Mandela Foundation in asking people around the world to devote at least 67 minutes of their time on July 18 to community service," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message on Wednesday.

While events are taking place around the globe, the 95-year-old ailing icon is marking his birthday at the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria. He was admitted to hospital more than a month ago for a recurring lung infection.

This time around, Madiba's condition was described as "critical" by the Presidency.

But Mr Mandela's hospitalisation has not dampened the mood.

South Africa's ambassador to the US, Ebrahim Rasool, said activities planned in 18 US cities had purposefully been injected with a "joyous spirit", in light of Madiba's ailing health.

The ambassador said there had been a conscious effort to make sure the proceedings were celebratory in nature.

"The last few weeks have been particularly anxious and sober, as we have watched from abroad how Mr Mandela's health has suffered in hospital," said Mr Rasool. "We could have carried this mood to Mandela Day, or we could celebrate a life filled with optimism and sacrifice and hope, and so that is what we decided to do."

The South African embassy has partnered with the African American foreign policy organisation TransAfrica, and the Coalition for Black Trade Unionists -- both of whom played vital roles in the US's campaign to demand Mandela's freedom in the 1980s -- to co-ordinate and support the commemoration of the occasion.

Mr Rasool said that Madiba's example was needed now more than ever: "I think we are readier to heed it today than we perhaps were two decades ago." How does Nelson Mandela speak to us, is the question that should be asked, he said.

It is an answer Americans seem ready to explore too, as Congresswoman Karen Bass reported having had many people approach her office to ask what they could do for their 67 minutes. "It's been a very organic process," she says. "We've had a lot of interest from people coming to us to find out more."

Mr Rasool said they had been able to get an indication of the number of people planning to take part in events and activities, by the size of venues needed.

A church service that will be held at the Metropolitan AME church in Washington, featuring South African singer Simphiwe Dana and the choir of the Washington Performing Arts Society, was originally to be held at a smaller venue.

Various religious ceremonies are planned for this weekend, taking place in mosques and synagogues, churches and temples. Andrew Mlangeni, a fellow Rivonia treason trialist, who spent time with Mr Mandela in prison, is due to speak at the event, and ring the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange.

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