July 17, 2003

Official celebrations for Mandela's birthday kick off

Gifts and good wishes poured in on Thursday, July 17, for former President Nelson Mandela ahead of his 85th birthday on Friday. Education Minister Kader Asmal presented Madiba with a book highlighting his speeches and tributes paid to him by world leaders, poets and singers. Contributors to the book, titled "Nelson Mandela -- From Freedom To The Future -- Tributes and Speeches", include Mandela's wife Graca Machel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, actor Bill Cosby, and former United States President Bill Clinton.

A grinning Mandela said he never imagined he would still be treated in such a fashion after not being president for so many years. Mandela called on South Africans to guard against tribalism, naming the Xhosa in particular. There was a perception that the African National Congress, was a Xhosa organisation. This perception needed to change and more people were accepting that the ANC was also made up of other tribes, as well as whites, Indians and coloureds, Mandela said.

Mandela also received birthday messages from across the political spectrum. The ANC extended its "warm wishes and heartfelt congratulations". "We celebrate a life spent in service of the people and in pursuit of the ideals of national liberation, democracy and freedom," ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe said. The Democratic Alliance said Mandela was an inspiration to the world. "Madiba has come to symbolise all that is good about our country and has indeed served as an inspiration for people from across the world," acting DA leader Joe Seremane said. "Madiba - gugulethu! Se zixhenya ngwawe!! (Madiba - our pride! We boast of you!!)" Seremane said. New National Party leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk said: "Your imposing presence is an ongoing reminder to the rest of the world of the pride and power -- but most of all the compassion and dignity -- that resides in the hearts of our people." United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said he would always cherish the close relationship he has with Mandela. "What makes Madiba such a great man is not merely the many virtuous qualities that he possesses, but these qualities should meet in a man that is so humble and compassionate."

The Congress of SA Trade Unions thanked Mandela for the sacrifices he made for South Africa. "We pay a heartfelt tribute to a hero who did more than any other to change our lives and give us hope; a man whose immense sacrifices and huge contribution to the liberation struggle freed us all from racism and oppression," the message said. "Happy birthday! May Madiba enjoy many more years to guide and inspire us!" Cosatu said.

Mandela will spend most of Friday with his family and a banquet, to be attended by 1600 people from across the globe who all have some type of relationship with Madiba, will be held in his honour on Saturday night. (SAPA, Johannesburg)

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