Madiba 'is going to have cake'

2010-07-18 14:39

Johannesburg - World leaders united in wishing Nelson Mandela well on his birthday as well as hailing his contribution to global politics and the fight for human rights.

The increasingly frail Nobel peace laureate was celebrating the day quietly with his extended family and grandchildren at his home in Johannesburg.

"He is very well...he is healthy and taking into account the kind of life he had, it is really heartening... he is getting old, he is getting frail but he is absolutely healthy, full of life, spirits high," Mandela's wife Graca Machel told BBC.

"He is going to have a cake, his family will surround him... we will gather at home, we will sit around, give him a lot of love," said Machel.

The celebrations were not being confined to Mandela's home in the leafy suburb of Houghton, however.

Great personal cost

Ordinary people in South Africa and abroad have committed to devoting 67 minutes of their time to community service, to mark the number of years Mandela spent in politics, an initiative backed by global figures like former US president Jimmy Carter and Martti Ahtisaari of Finland.

Mandela's birthday was recognised last year by the United Nations as "Nelson Mandela International Day" and was being celebrated across the world.

Neighbours around outside the high perimeter walls of Madiba's home, hoping to catch a glimpse of the iconic leader. 

"Nelson Mandela is a towering figure. He embodies the highest values of humanity, and of the United Nations," said UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon in a statement.

"Nelson Mandela’s accomplishments came at great personal cost to himself and his family. Today, on the first Nelson Mandela International Day, we thank him for everything he has done for freedom, for justice and for democracy," said Ban.

In contrast to Houghton, thousands of people gathered since early Sunday at Mandela's birthplace in Mvezo, in the Eastern Cape. President Jacob Zuma was expected to make an address there later on Sunday.

Connection to Madiba

People all over the country have dedicated 67 minutes of their time and more to help the less fortunate, from feeding street children, cleaning schools and caring for the elderly.

A group of 30 bikers including Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman took to the road from Johannesburg to Cape Town, engaging in community service along the way.

The group built a security fence at a centre for people living with Aids in the impoverished Khayelitsha township, outside Cape Town.

"I take it as my connection to Madiba. We should do it every day," Freeman told journalists.

The UN is celebrating the day with various activities at its centres around the world from African countries like Zambia and Sudan to Kazakhstan.

Few public appearances

Communities in Sudan were to participate in a "Football for Peace" tournament in El-Fasher, with the winning team awarded the Nelson Mandela Cup.

In Spain a 6.7km charity walk in Retiro Park, Madrid will be held on Sunday evening to mark the day.

A round table discussion on the Mandela legacy will be held in Almaty in Kazakhstan, followed by the screening of the movie Invictus, which is based on Mandela's life.

Mandela was jailed for 27 years by the country's white minority government for resisting apartheid rule.

On his release in 1990, he led negotiations with apartheid rulers, a process that culminated in his election as the country's first black president in 1994.

He stepped down as president in 1999, after serving one term in office. He has made few public appearances since he retired from public life in 2004.