Cape Town: Peace activist Desmond Tutu has urged South Africans to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday by following his unifying example of tolerance that brought together a divided country.
“The greatest gift our nation could possibly give Tata [father] Nelson Mandela for his 94th birthday this week would be to emulate his magnanimity and grace,” said Tutu of his friend who spent 27 years in apartheid jail.
The greatest gift our nation could possibly give Tata [father] Nelson Mandela for his 94th birthday this week would be to emulate his magnanimity and grace
South Africans readying to do good deeds on Mandela Day, which celebrates the anti-apartheid icon’s birthday on Wednesday, should reflect on Mandela’s gift to the nation which he steered into democracy after decades of racial divisions, Tutu said.
Elected in 1994 as the country’s first black leader, Mandela understood that an environment in which “all South Africans would swim in more or less the same direction” was the best scenario for the country, Tutu said.
“His willingness to listen to others, to solicit and acknowledge all points of view, to place reconciliation and national unity at the forefront of the agenda, to set an example of forgiveness and tolerance following a lifetime of bitter oppression, inspired tremendous pride and hope in us all,” said Tutu.
“Mr Mandela taught us to love ourselves, to love one another and to love our country. He laid the table so that all South Africans could eat; we must ensure all members of the family are invited.”
In 2009 the United Nations declared the icon’s birthday on July 18 as International Mandela Day, aimed to get people all over the world to volunteer for good causes.
Mandela will celebrate away from the spotlight, which he has increasingly shunned in recent years.
Tukwini Mandela, a granddaughter, said last week that the former president “always looks forward to his birthday.”
“He is in very good spirits and looking well,” she told broadcaster E-News, noting that the family would have 94 cupcakes at a small private event.
Mandela has appeared publicly only once this year, very briefly, when a camera crew from South African television was allowed to film him at home sitting in a chair, his legs covered by a blanket, while the African National Congress presented him with a symbolic flame.
The ruling ANC party, which Mandela once headed, is celebrating its 100th year.
The liberation hero spent 27 years in jail for his role in the struggle against Apartheid, the oppressive white-minority rule. He was elected as the first black president of South Africa in 1994 and served for one five-year term, before stepping down.
South Africa has a campaign, “Mandela Day,” to mark the birthday, in which people are called to take on one good deed for 67 minutes.
“For 67 years Nelson Mandela devoted his life to the service of humanity - as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker and the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa,” the United Nations said in a statement.
The UN declared July 18 International Mandela Day in 2009, backing the idea of devoting just over an hour to helping others.
The South African government and private groups are also arranging mass events where people can sing “happy birthday” to the former president. Schoolchildren across the country are set to participate.
Mandela was rushed to hospital in early 2011 for an infection and was operated on this year in a Johannesburg hospital. He currently lives in his ancestral village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape province.