Thursday, July 19, 2007

Nelson Mandela, Former South African President, Celebrates 89th Birthday

Mandela's birthday gift to the world

Isaac Mangena
Thu, 19 Jul 2007

Nelson Mandela, the icon of the struggle against apartheid, marked his 89th birthday on Wednesday by launching fellow elder statesmen on a venture to reduce conflict and despair.

The former president was the host and star at a ceremony in Johannesburg to announce the formation of a brains trust of world leaders, bringing together the likes of ex-US president Jimmy Carter and former UN chief Kofi Annan, on a mission to tackle some of the world's most pressing problems.

Wisdom and independence

Supported by a walking stick and his wife Graca Machel on their ninth wedding anniversary, Mandela told his guests they could offer both wisdom and independence of thought after a lifetime of public service.

"Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair," said Mandela as he unveiled the launch of 'The Elders'.

"They don't have careers to build, elections to win and constituencies to please.... I wish them well and hope that they succeed in bringing light to some of the darkness that affects our world."

While his opening address was followed by short speeches from fellow luminaries such as Carter and British tycoon Richard Branson, it was the beaming face of Mandela in one of his trademark shirts that stole the show.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel peace prizewinner, said that South Africa had been blessed to have a man of Mandela's stature.

"How God must have loved South Africa by giving us such a wonderful person. You make us feel great about being human," said Tutu.

His successor as president and leader of the governing African National Congress, Thabo Mbeki, has long struggled to emerge from the shadow of Mandela, but he was among those who paid tribute to the man who is more widely known in South Africa by his clan name Madiba.

"The country and the world are privileged to celebrate the life of such an outstanding leader of our people," he said.

After what is becoming an increasingly rare public appearance, Mandela was to spend the evening watching a football match played in his honour in Cape Town from the comfort of his living room in Johannesburg.

The celebrations come as a new survey showed the anti-apartheid icon, who spent 27 years behind bars for his role in the fight against the whites-only apartheid regime, was more popular than ever — especially among whites.

Mandela has limited his political activities since announcing his retirement from public life in 2004, although he still releases occasional video messages and holds private audiences with visiting statesmen.

Football stars

As Mandela was hosting the launch in Johannesburg, a galaxy of stars from the football world, such as Dutch legend Ruud Gullit and Cameroon ace Samuel Eto'o, visited the former prison colony on Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in captivity.

They later appeared at Cape Town's Newlands stadium for a special "90 Minutes for Mandela" match designed to raise money for his foundation.

The contest between an Africa team and a "Rest of the World" XI drew three all after a slower-paced but good-spirited match in which players' ages ranged from the mid-20s to nearly 50.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the match was an opportunity "to honour an extraordinary man who dedicated his lifetime to the promotion of human rights and democracy."

Gullit, a former European player of the year and manager of Chelsea, said the lesson from Mandela's life was that "there is always hope."

"If you believe in yourself and fight hard for the right thing, you will succeed," he told AFP.

A survey meanwhile published by the researchers Markinor gave Mandela a 92 percent approval rating among South Africans, including 78 percent from the white population. That compares with a rating of 32 percent in 1992, two years after his release from prison.


Mandela draws a crowd

Thu, 19 Jul 2007

Amid a chorus of vuvuzelas and a display of world-class soccer talent, more than 30 000 South Africans gathered at the Newlands Rugby stadium on Wednesday night to celebrate former President Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday.

"Happy birthday Madiba!" screamed 10-year old Colin Prince, as he frantically blew a vuvuzela.

He was among the thousands who braved Cape Town's winter evening chill to witness a star-studded soccer match between a Worlds X1, featuring legends such as former European player of the year Ruud Gullit, slugging it out with an African X1 side, which included three-time African player of the year, Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon.

The match, which honoured a soccer league formed by Robben Island prisoners, Makana Football Association, was one of the main events that formed part of Mandela's birthday celebrations.

However, Mandela, who was incarcerated on Robben Island for the better part of his 27-year imprisonment, could not attend the match.

But this did not dampen the spirit of the many South Africans, some of whom came from as far away as Limpopo Province to join in the celebrations.

Johannes Maluleke, a motor mechanic from Tzaneen, near Polokwane, said although he was no longer in the habit of going to stadiums, he could not resist the temptation to come and watch a match being played in honour of Madiba.

"The last time I went to a stadium was as far back as 1996," he said.

"But this, because it is Mandela's celebration, I could not stay away."

In the true spirit of what Mandela fought for and was jailed for, the two teams shared the spoils — each scored three goals.

The proceeds of match would be donated to the Mandela Foundation.

1 comment:

Bantsijang said...