Celebrating South Africa’s president, Nelson Mandela, at 94
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South Africans celebrated Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday on Wednesday by participating in good deeds nationwide to honor the legacy of the famous statesman. The frail leader has not appeared in public since the World Cup in 2010, but he is celebrated in South Africa and worldwide on his birthday for his role in reconciling a country divided by apartheid.
Citizens in South Africa performed at least 67 minutes of public service on his birthday, referencing the number of years he devoted to helping others. On Tuesday, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, had lunch with Mandela in the small southeastern village where Mandela grew up and spends most of his time. Clinton, whose presidency coincided with Mandela’s, hailed him as a “wonderful friend” and planted a tree in his honor during the visit. Clinton said the anti-apartheid icon never lost touch with his humanity. The former U.S. president said, “I saw in him something that I try not to lose in myself, which is no matter how much responsibility you have, he remembered you were a person first.”
In South Africa, 14 million students sang “Happy Birthday” in unison nationwide before the start of their lessons, as world leader also paid tribute to Mandela’s legacy. President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, described Mandela as a leader committed to democracy, saying his accomplishments changed South Africa and the world. “Nelson Mandela’s personal story is one of unbreakable will, unwavering integrity, and abiding humility,” Obama said in a statement. “… By any measure, Nelson Mandela has changed the arc of history, transforming his country, continent and the world.”
As a Nobel peace laureate, Mandela spent 27 years in prison for fighting against oppression of minorities in South Africa. Four years after he was freed from prison, Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994. July 18 was designated as Mandela Day in 2009 by the United Nations.