THE United Nations declaration of 18 July – birthday of the global icon Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – as Mandela Day will be marked with sobriety as the 95-year-old former South African president spends his sixth straight week in hospital.
Activities lined up to celebrate the man whose resolve was central to ending apartheid, include school children all over South Africa singing “happy birthday” to him this morning, a United Nations special session, and a legacy bridge to be opened in Mveso, Transkei, near his home town of Qunu. The UN declared Mandela Day in 2010 as a special day to remind people to do good for humanity which is what Mandela epitomises.
“This year’s commemoration comes at a sensitive time for President Mandela and his family,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon . “He is an extraordinary man who continues to inspire the world through his example of courage, compassion and commitment to justice for all.”
Born on 18 July 1918, Mandela became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s, joining the African National Congress in 1942. He attended the University College of Fort Hare and later enrolled at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study law.
In 1963, he was brought to trial with 10 other ANC leaders and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years. While in prison, he earned a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence programme.
On February 11, 1990 Frederick De Klerk released Mandela and unbanned the ANC. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first democratic elections. Mandela was inaugurated as the country’s first black president on May 10, 1994, at the age of 77, with de Klerk as his first deputy.
By the 1999 general election, Mandela had retired from active politics. His published works include the biography, No Easy Walk to Freedom.
Mandela made his last public appearance to date in 2010, at the final match of the World Cup in South Africa. In December 2012, Mandela was hospitalised for a lung infection. He was re-admitted in March 2013 for a lung infection. On June 8, 2013, Mandela was rushed to a hospital in Pretoria, he is still there.
He married thrice – to Evelyn Ntoko Mase (1944 to 1957), they had four children; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (1958 to 1996), they had two daughters and in 1998 to Graca Machel.
“Never before in history was one human being so universally acknowledged in his lifetime as the embodiment of magnanimity and reconciliation,” Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, once said of Mandela.
We wish Madiba happy birthday and quick recovery.