Madiba 90

Mandela speaks out for the poor

2008-07-18 13:42
<b>Nelson Mandela smiles during an interview with the media at his house in Qunu on his 90th birthday. (Themba Hadebe, AP)</b>

Nelson Mandela smiles during an interview with the media at his house in Qunu on his 90th birthday. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

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Mandela: SA needs good leaders

Now as much as ever, South Africa needs disciplined leaders, Nelson Mandela has said at birthday celebration in Pretoria.

Qunu - Nelson Mandela celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday by urging the wealthy to share their prosperity with the less fortunate and by saying he wished he had been able to spend more time with his family during the anti-apartheid struggle.

In an interview at his home in rural Qunu, the anti-apartheid icon was asked if he had a message for the world.

"There are many people in South Africa who are rich and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate who have not been able to conquer poverty," Mandela said.

Sitting with his wife Graca Machel in a lounge of the large home he built in Qunu, Mandela said he was fortunate to have reached 90, but in the countryside and in the towns "poverty has gripped our people.

"If you are poor, you are not likely to live long," he said.

At one point, a granddaughter brought in a bowl of flowers and gave Mandela a birthday kiss. He was asked if he wished he had had more time with his family during a life spent fighting apartheid and then leading South Africa as its first black president.

"I am sure for many people that is their wish," he said. "I also have that wish that I spent more time (with my family). But I don't regret it."

Pensive

Wearing one of his signature patterned shirts, this one in shades of green, gold and black, he glanced pensively out a window at the start of the interview.

"This is my property. When I am here, I feel I own something," he said.

Soon after the interview, a group of seven or eight grandchildren crowded around Mandela's chair, sang "Happy Birthday" and kissed him. His legs were propped up on a large stool and covered with a pale yellow blanket. A pile of newspapers sat next to his chair.

The room was full of birthday presents from all over the world - a portrait, a bust, a collection of photography books - all featuring him - from well-known artists.

Birthday events

While Mandela was celebrating quietly in Qunu, events were taking place across the country in his honour.

Two runners holding South African flags circled Robben Island, where Mandela spent most of his 27 years in jail. At nearby Drakenstein prison, known as Victor Verster when Mandela was held their briefly at the end of his term, a prisoners' choir and a band performed for a live broadcast on state television, and prisoners who had created portraits of Mandela handed them over to Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour, who was to pass them on to Mandela.

"We are saying Mr Mandela is 90 today he gave a lot back to the country he united us," said a prisons' spokesperson, Mark Solomons.

In Johannesburg, children celebrated with birthday cake at the offices of the foundation Mandela founded after stepping down as president in 1999, and his African National Congress unfurled giant banners featuring his image at its downtown headquarters.

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