JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – July 18, 2013 marked the 95th birthday of one of the most influential people in the world – Nelson Mandela.
A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Mandela led the fight against African apartheid and was imprisoned for 27 years for speaking out against white minority rule. Even during his imprisonment, Mandela led an anti-apartheid movement. The man also devoted his life to AIDS activism and the promotion of education. He became South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994.
“South Africa is a better place today than it was in 1994 and this is because of the contribution made by Madiba and his collective,” the ruling African National Congress, once led by Mandela, said in a statement.
Unfortunately, Mandela was in a hospital bed for his birthday this year. Since June, South Africa’s first democratically elected president was hospitalized with a lung infection. Eventually, Mandela was put on life support. His foundation’s previously planned birthday events, however, continued despite the hospitalization.
“We see this as an opportunity for people to rise above Madiba’s hospitalization,” said Sello Hatang, the foundation’s CEO, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
The foundation asked South Africans and others to mark Nelson Mandela Day (July 18th) by volunteering 67 minutes to charity in honor of Mandela’s 67 years of public service. What occurred was said by President Jacob Zuma to be “the biggest Madiba celebration ever.”
Among the participants was President Zuma, who oversaw the donation of houses to poor families in Pretoria, and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who helped to paint a school in Cape Town.
“Mandela makes us walk tall as South Africans and reminds us that we have the capacity to be a fantastic nation,” said Tutu. “Even though there are those who pour scorn on the image, the rainbow people, we delight, we take glory in our diversity, which makes us such a fantastic bunch of people.”
At Melpark Primary School in Johannesburg, around 700 students sang “Happy Birthday” in a hall filled with posters honoring Mandela’s contributions to peace and education.
“We don’t only recognize him on this day,” said 13-year-old Thato Williams. “We put smiles on other people’s faces, we donate to other people less fortunate.”
Mandela has seen great improvement since his birthday in July. He was discharged from the hospital on September 1 and has since been sent home to Johannesburg with his family.
Former US president Bill Clinton commented on his condition at a UN special session in New York, saying, “Although he is old and frail and fighting for his life and, as Hillary and Chelsea and I have seen in visiting Qunu over the last couple of years, he doesn’t hear so well and he walks with the benefit of an elevated walker, what is in his heart still glows in his smile and lights up the room through his eyes.”
– Samantha Davis