Nelson Mandela (left) gestures as (from center left) British singer Annie Lennox, British Formula 1 racing driver Lewis Hamilton, U.S. actress Jada Pinkett Smith and British singer Geri Halliwell applaud at the 46664 charity concert in honor of Mandela’s 90th birthday in London last Friday. South Africa’s Parliament held a special sitting last Friday to mark the anti-apartheid icon’s birthday. (Anthony Harvey/AP Images for VH1)
CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Tributes to Nelson Mandela’s dignity, humanity and humor poured in at a special sitting of South Africa’s Parliament last Friday to mark the anti-apartheid icon’s 90th birthday.
South Africa’s first black president will turn 90 on July 18. He is expected to spend the day quietly. But a series of events will celebrate the milestone, including a concert in London on Friday to raise funds for his AIDS charity.
Former opposition leader Tony Leon said some South Africans probably felt deprived because Mandela was holding the bash in Britain.
“But that perhaps is an appropriate metaphor, because South Africa shares Mandela with the world,” Leon said. “His party shares him with the opposition, and he rises above party and personality as the most powerful and potent and positive symbol of all that is good about our country.”
In 1994, Mandela was freed from prison after 27 years. He was elected president in South Africa’s first multiracial elections in 1994, ushering in an era of optimism and reconciliation after years of international isolation and internal brutality.
Since leaving the presidency in 1999, he has not commented on whether today’s South Africa has lived up to his dreams.
The racial divide still runs deep; millions remain mired in poverty. Corruption is rife, crime rampant. AIDS kills 1,000 people a day. The recent anti-foreigner violence in which more than 60 people were killed dashed South Africa’s reputation as a stable haven on a troubled continent.
Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, is isolated at home by his aloofness and discredited abroad because of his apparent appeasement of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. And Jacob Zuma, who is expected to become president next year, will go on trial this year for corruption, having already been acquitted of rape.
“We wish he was 30 years younger so he could tell the leaders of today how things are done,” Kraai van Niekerk, a white Afrikaner who served in Mandela’s government of national unity, said of the former president.(p2)