x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

World to unite for Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday

Around the world, people today will give time to charity in celebration of the 95th birthday of South Africa's ailing first black president.

On the eve of Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday, children from local orphanages sing happy birthday outside the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, where Mandela is being treated.
On the eve of Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday, children from local orphanages sing happy birthday outside the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, where Mandela is being treated.

JOHANNESBURG // Nelson Mandela is set to spend his 95th birthday in hospital today, but across the world admirers hope to honour his legacy through millions of acts of kindness.

In South Africa, biker gangs will clean streets, volunteers will paint schools and politicians will spend 67 minutes on worthy projects in a tidal wave of charity.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, based in Johannesburg, and numerous other groups have asked people to volunteer 67 minutes to charity to match what they say are the 67 years that Mandela served his community.

According to a survey released yesterday, 89 per cent of young South Africans plan to take part in some way.

The United Nations declared the Nobel peace laureate's birthday Mandela Day in 2010, but for many this year it takes on extra poignancy.

Mr Mandela has spent the past six weeks in a Pretoria hospital, where he is still in a critical but stable condition and breathing with the help of a machine. Family and friends have said he is now responding to treatment.

His successor as president, Thabo Mbeki, even suggested he might be discharged from hospital soon.

But a day away from his 95th birthday yesterday, that seemed optimistic to many.

"I just hope that although he may not be able to enjoy his 95th birthday, that he will be well enough for his 96th," said friend and fellow campaigner George Bizos.

Mr Mandela led South Africa through a tense transition from apartheid to democracy and became president in the country's first all-race elections in 1994.

The president, Jacob Zuma, will mark the birthday by overseeing the donation of houses to poor-white families in the Pretoria area, in line with his cabinet's theme to commemorate Mr Mandela's birthday this year by focusing on food security, shelter and literacy.

Children in schools around South Africa will begin their day by singing "Happy Birthday" to the former statesman.

In Cape Town, labour activists are holding an event at St George's Cathedral today, in remembrance of Mr Mandela's years of service and to encourage people to donate food to charity while leaving messages of support for the former leader's family. Global luminaries, pop stars and companies also plan to pledge support.

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

In Manila, 50 street children will get a television studio tour and see performances by local artists.

In the Australian city of Melbourne on Saturday, there will be a concert featuring local and African artists, while a music festival later this year in Norway will promote equality in schools.

Born on July 18 in 1918, Mr Mandela fought against white rule as a young lawyer and was convicted of treason in 1964. He spent the next 27 years in jail.

But it was through his willingness to forgive his white jailers that Mr Mandela made his indelible mark on history.

After negotiating an end to apartheid, he became South Africa's first black president, drawing a line under centuries of colonial and racist suppression. He then led reconciliation in the deeply divided country.

Mr Mandela's peacemaking 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," said archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, himself a Nobel peace laureate.

But the sunset of his life has been somewhat overshadowed by bitter infighting among his relatives.

A row over his final resting place has led to three of his children's graves being dug up and their remains moved, public brawling and legal action among his children and grandchildren.

In a televised address, his grandson Mandla accused a sibling of impregnating his wife and Mr Mandela's oldest daughter, Makawize, of sowing divisions in South Africa's most famous family.

Mr Mandela's oldest granddaughter, Ndileka, spoke of the pain caused by the rift in an interview published yesterday.

"It was something that we did not want to take in the public space but because of who we are it was, it did spill over to the public space," she told the BBC. "There is no way that I can never forgive. but it's just that right now I'm still hurting."


* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse