- The former South African President and anti-apartheid icon on Friday celebrated 90th birthday at his rural home in the Eastern Cape province. Nelson Mandela, whose birthday celebrations took a national colour, used the event to express concern about the growing gap between rich and poor in South Africa.
In his birthday message, the aging leader said, "there are many people in South Africa who are rich and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate who have not been able to conquer poverty."
Mandela, who was speaking from Qunu, said he was fortunate to have celebrated 90 but was not at ease that "poverty has gripped our people."
"If you are poor, you are not likely to live long," he told journalists.
The man whose frantic efforts had led to the collapse of the minority rule characterised by apartheid is expected to spend the few days in Qunu with his family. Jailed for 27 years, Mandela recorded his name in the Genesis book of history when he was elected the first black President of South Africa in 1994, but ruled for only one five-year term in office and retired.
Mandela tasked himself with the cause of humanity, raising funds for the poor, sick, needy as well as settling disputes at home and abroad. He had also become a leading voice in the campaign against HIV/AIDS and lobbied the 2010 World Cup football tournament for his country.
Even after he had retired from public life in 2004, Mandela still continued to sacrifice his invaluable time and resources for the humanity through his charity foundation.
Mandela's birthday also marks 10 years of his marriage with his third wife Graca Machel. Graca, who joined a school choir in Qunu to sing a special song created for her husband, said the family had enjoyed every single day of "a wonderful husband's birthday.
Ahead of the birthday, Mandela had been poured with thousands of tributes from well-wishers on special websites, newspapers, radio and television station.
FW de Klerk, who passed the leadership baton to the legendary leader and jointly won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with him, described Mandela fondly called Madiba as one of the greatest figures of the century.
"After his inauguration, Nelson Mandela used his personal charm to promote reconciliation and to mould our widely diverse communities into an emerging multicultural nation. This, I believe, will be seen as his greatest legacy," Mr. Klerk said, describing Mandela as a leader with "assurance, the humility and the grace of a true natural aristocrat."
The President of the football world governing body FIFA, Sepp Blatter, saw Mandela as the "epitome of grace and dignity, a man with determination overcome even the greatest odds."
For weeks, several activities have been ongoing as part of Mandela's birthday celebration. They included a massive concert last month in London's Hyde Park, which was meant to raise funds for his Aids charity.
A get-together glittering bash is planned to take place in Qunu on Saturday. President Thabo Mbeki and ANC leader Jacob Zuma are among a group of some 500 guests to attend the birthday party.
As part of celebrations, several events, including a boxing tournament and concerts, are taking place across the country.
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