CAPE TOWN // Peace activist Desmond Tutu has urged South Africansto celebrate Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday by following his unifying example of tolerance that brought together a divided country.
"The greatest gift our nation could possibly give uTata (father) Nelson Mandela for his 94th birthday this week would be to emulate his magnanimity and grace," said Archbiship Tutu of his friend who spent 27 years in apartheid jail.
South Africans readying to do good deeds on Mandela Day, which celebrates the anti-apartheid icon's birthday on Wednesday, should reflect on Mandela's gift to the nation which he steered into democracy after decades of racial divisions, Archbishop Tutu said.
Elected in 1994 as the country's first black leader, Mr Mandela understood that an environment in which "all South Africans would swim in more or less the same direction" was the best scenario for the country, Archbishop Tutu said.
"His willingness to listen to others, to solicit and acknowledge all points of view, to place reconciliation and national unity at the forefront of the agenda, to set an example of forgiveness and tolerance following a lifetime of bitter oppression, inspired tremendous pride and hope in us all," said Tutu.
"Mr Mandela taught us to love ourselves, to love one another and to love our country. He laid the table so that all South Africans could eat; we must ensure all members of the family are invited."
In 2009 the United Nations declared the icon's birthday on July 18 as International Mandela Day, aimed to get people all over the world to volunteer for good causes.
Yesterday, former US president Bill Clinton hailed his close ties with Mr Mandela on a visit to his rural childhood village. "It was a great honour for me to serve as a president of America while Mandela was president of the Republic of South Africa," Mr Clinton said in Qunu, the picturesque south-eastern village where Mr Mandela grew up. "We worked together as presidents and even after we left office we continued working together to improve education of the children worldwide in order for them to share the future," he added.