Millions of South Africans took part Thursday in hundreds of events nationwide in honor of revered ex-President Nelson Mandela, who remains hospitalized on his 95th birthday.

Nine of every 10 youths in this country of 50 million inhabitants will dedicate 67 minutes of their time on Thursday to charity or community-service work, according to a survey released Wednesday.

That in homage to the 67 years Mandela devoted to fighting against South Africa's apartheid regime and upholding human rights.

The United Nations officially declared Nelson Mandela International Day - celebrated on July 18, the birthday of the "father of the nation" - in November 2009.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation and the South African government expect the largest-ever turnout for this year's edition since it comes at a moment when the former president remains hospitalized with a recurring lung infection.

President Jacob Zuma delivered some good news to his compatriots on Thursday, saying in a statement that Mandela, who was reportedly critically ill late last month, was steadily improving.

Authorities and relatives of Madiba - as he is affectionately known in his homeland - have said Mandela Day should be a time for celebrating his legacy and the fact he is still alive as opposed to an occasion for lamenting his illness.

One of the biggest tributes outside South Africa will take place at the United Nations' headquarters in New York City, where a special session will be held to pay homage to Mandela and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the start of the Rivonia trial, in which Mandela was charged with sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government.

He was sentenced to life behind bars in June 1964.

Mandela's lung problems are a legacy of the tuberculosis he contracted during the 27 years he spent in prison.

After his release in 1990, Mandela and the last president of apartheid-era South Africa, F.W. de Klerk, led the process of peacefully dismantling that system of racial segregation.

They jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their collaboration in that effort.

Elected president in 1994, Mandela's leadership was credited with helping to avert widespread racial violence in post-apartheid South Africa. EFE