Happy Birthday Tata Mandela

2011-07-17 22:11
A group of schoolkids take part in a symbolic handing over of a child's version of Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom in Johannesburg, ahead of the struggle icon's 93rd birthday. (Stephane de Sakutin, AFP)

A group of schoolkids take part in a symbolic handing over of a child's version of Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom in Johannesburg, ahead of the struggle icon's 93rd birthday. (Stephane de Sakutin, AFP)

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Johannesburg - UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called on people around the world to carry out volunteer work to mark the 93rd birthday on Monday of South Africa's iconic elder statesman Nelson Mandela.

In schools across the country, South Africa's 12.4 million children will on Monday sing a special version of Happy Birthday, written by a local composer, for the former president and anti-apartheid hero.

But UN officials and the Nelson Mandela Foundation also want people to sign up for 67 minutes of voluntary work - a minute for every year he devoted himself to the political struggle.

"Together, the best way we can thank Nelson Mandela for his work is by taking action for others and inspiring change," said Ban in a statement.

His birthday, July 18, will for the third year running be observed as Mandela Day, which the UN has a recognised as a day when people are called to give something back to their community.

Companies, charities and celebrities have all announced plans for the day.

A group of bikers left Johannesburg at the beginning of the week to cross the country doing voluntary work in poor communities. Their 2 200km trip ends on Monday in Pretoria.

Schools and orphanages are opening their doors to volunteers to clean and paint, while blood banks are operating extra hours for an anticipated rush of donors.

Nelson Mandela Boulevard

And Mandela, who has already been showered with international awards, not the least of which is the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, received further honours in the run-up to his birthday.

Mayor of Cape Town Patricia de Lille named a main road through the city centre Nelson Mandela Boulevard on Friday and announced plans for a permanent exhibition in his honour at the city's old town hall.

That was where Mandela gave his first, historic speech in 1990, after his release following 27 years in South African jails during the apartheid era of white minority rule.

In a separate video message, Ban set out the different ways people could honour Mandela's work.

"Tutor a child. Feed someone less fortunate. Care for your environment. Volunteer at a hospital or community centre. Be a part of a global movement to make the world a better place," he said.

"Together, we can help people achieve the dignity and liberty that are their birthright. That is the best way we can honour Nelson Mandela."

Mandela will be spending his birthday with his family at his home Qunu, in the Eastern Cape.

He has rarely left their side since a health scare in January when he was hospitalised for an acute respiratory infection.

Medical aircraft

The ailing former president arrived at Qunu in a military medical aircraft on Thursday. But it was a private trip and the press and public were kept away.

Mandela was last seen in public just before his last birthday, when he and his wife Graca Machel made an appearance at the Soccer World Cup final.

As South Africa's first black president, Mandela is revered for having ushered in democracy and for his personal sacrifices in fighting the apartheid regime.

On his release in 1990, he led negotiations that paved the way to elections in 1994.

He used his warmth, dignity and self-deprecating humour to help heal racial divisions and opened a process of reconciliation.

Read more on:    mandela day  |  graca machel  |  patricia de lille  |  nelson mandela
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