Mandela Day start of a new era

2009-07-18 14:37

Johannesburg - Mandela Day marks the start of an era when we reshape South Africa and ourselves, anti-apartheid activist Mac Maharaj said on Saturday.

"On Mandela Day, Madiba himself helped us shape the focus on ourselves. He says there's a place for us to grow," said Maharaj, speaking on SABC television in tribute to the world's greatest living icon on his 91st birthday.

"When people say 'we love you' to Madiba, it means their lives have changed and you (Mandela) symbolise that change."

Maharaj maintained that Mandela's message was not to remember him in museums but to remember him by doing "little things" to change and re-shape the country.

He added that the former president had become bigger than a man, "he has become an idea."

Wishes from politicians across the spectrum

As thousands of birthday greetings began streaming into television stations and newspaper houses, opposition leaders also expressed their wishes.

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said Mandela was the man who changed the course of history, through political strength and a firm commitment to humanity.

Congress of the People president Mosiuou "Terror" Lekota said Mandela Day was an expression of gratitude.

"We thank and wish you many many more years of a long and fruitful life."

Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, a close friend of the Mandela family, said Madiba was a man whose phone call would never be missed or ignored.

"International artists take his calls anytime...This is a man whose call you can never ignore...whether it's 5am or whenever," he said.

Scores of people, including the revolutionary's grandson Mandla Mandela, and media converged at the icon's home in Houghton, Johannesburg.

People around the world are celebrating Madiba's service to the people by spending 67 minutes to do community work.

Sexwale said this was the greatest way to celebrate the Mandela's birthday, his life and legacy.

South Africans planned to spend Saturday sprucing up neglected schools, painting vandalised walls, distributing food parcels and blankets, and even reading newspapers to the elderly.

President Jacob Zuma planned to spend time with elderly people at an old age home in Ekurhuleni's Ivory Park.

By midday, around 800 people had converged there.

Zuma was expected to address the crowd around 1pm, before handing out gifts to the elderly.

National television studios, meanwhile, paid tribute to the legend by showcasing important moments in Mandela's life - his baptism, his traditional initiation as a teenager, his marriage, introduction into politics, jail time on Robben Island, walk to freedom, and his inauguration as South Africa's first democratically-elected president.