July 18, 2008

Mandela celebrates 90th birthday

Nelson Mandela, who was instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa and rose from prisoner to president, is celebrating his 90th birthday. After a series of public appearances around the world over the past few weeks, he is expected to spend the day at his village home with his family. Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela has become South Africa's highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids and helping to secure his country's right to host the 2010 football World Cup. In 2004, at the age of 85, Mr Mandela retired from public life to spend more time with his family and friends and engage in "quiet reflection". Friday also marks 10 years since Mr Mandela married his third wife, Graca Machel. "He is simply a wonderful husband... and we enjoy every single day as if it is the last day," she told CNN.

Messages poured into the www.happybirthdaymandela.com from countries including Malawi, Colombia, Afghanistan and Norway with contributors invited to make a donation to the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Among those who contributed was Gordon Brown, who wrote: "Nelson Mandela is a leader no prison cell, no intimidation, no threat could silence. A man whose belief in the future was so powerful that not even at 27 years behind bars and barbed wire could destroy his dream that millions could be free."

Mr Mandela's old adversary F.W. de Klerk, the last president of the apartheid era South Africa, released a statement describing him as one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. De Klerk, who stood down after Mandela won the first multi-racial elections 14 years ago, said his co-winner of the 1993 Nobel peace price was a born leader with the "humility and the grace of a true natural aristocrat." "After his inauguration, Nelson Mandela used his personal charm to promote reconciliation and to mould our widely diverse communities into an emerging multicultural nation. This, I believe, will be seen as his greatest legacy," he said. (rts)

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