x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

World celebrates as Mandela turns 92

People around the world are celebrating the birthday of South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, who turns 92 years old today.

Nelson Mandela is surrounded by children at his home in Johannesburg yesterday.
Nelson Mandela is surrounded by children at his home in Johannesburg yesterday.

People around the world are celebrating the birthday of South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, who turns 92 years old today. Global leaders and ordinary people in South Africa and abroad have committed to devoting 67 minutes of their time to community service, to mark the number of years Mandela spent in politics. His birthday in 2009 was recognised by the United Nations as "Nelson Mandela International Day" and will be celebrated around the world.

The increasingly frail leader is spending the day with family at his home, north of Johannesburg. Neighbours in the plush suburb of Houghton are milling outside the high perimeter walls of Madiba's home, hoping to catch a glimpse of the iconic leader. "I have been here since 8am. Maybe I might be lucky and see him," said Jessy Martina holding a "Happy Birthday Madiba" sign. Children with handmade birthday cards and flowers were standing with their parents outside the gate, amid tight security, waiting to hand over their birthday messages to family members.

"We expect more people to arrive during the day. Unfortunately no one would be allowed in, but we can't chase them away," said a police officer stationed outside the house. "The family has asked for privacy," said the officer. Local politicians united in wishing the anti-apartheid icon well on his birthday, with international leaders hailing his contribution to global politics and the fight for human rights.

"President Mandela has given 67 years of his life, now what we all could do is try to use 67 minutes of our lives, and change the world for the better," said Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland. Mr Ahtisaari is a member of The Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders formed by Mandela in 2008. Mr Mandela was jailed for 27 years by the country's white minority government for resisting apartheid rule.

On his release in 1990, he led negotiations with apartheid rulers, a process that culminated in his election as the country's first black president in 1994. The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton described Mandela as a hero to people of all backgrounds. "His story is filled with an amazing strength and integrity of spirit. There is no one more deserving of this unprecedented international recognition," said Mrs Clinton.

"I am delighted to offer him my warmest wishes on this special day," she added. * AFP