South Africa pays tribute to Mandela at 94 | Africa | DW | 17.07.2012
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South Africa pays tribute to Mandela at 94

July 18 is Nelson Mandela Day in South Africa. It's the day when South Africans celebrate their former president's contribution to universal freedom by donating 67 minutes of their time to public service.

South Africa's freedom icon, Nelson Mandela, spent 67 years of his life fighting for the liberty and freedom of all South Africans, both black and white. 27 of those years were spent as a political prisoner on Robben Island.

Nelson Mandela and wife Winnie walking hand in hand upon his release from prison in February 1990

Nelson Mandela walks free from prison in February 1990

As the country marks Mandela's 94th birthday, South Africans say they will never forget his struggle against oppression, racism and the subjugation of the majority by the minority.

"That guy is our hero. He's a great man," Nonhlalhla Cebekhulu told DW. "I was so inspired by his doings. I am so impressed by the way he saved this nation."

Helping people smile for a day

Most South Africans, be they individuals or organisations, are so impressed by Mandela's achievements that they are eager to follow the call to help the under-privileged on his birthday. They will spend 67 minutes in the service of the people in commemoration of the number of years Mandela devoted to fighting for liberation and freedom.

The young Mandela in boxing pose in 1950

The young Mandela, then ANC leader, in 1950

Among the institutions taking part is the University of South Africa, UNISA. A distance learning university, UNISA caters for more than 400,000 students all over the country and in many other parts of the African continent. Gcina Nhleko is the university's communications manager in KwaZulu-Natal.

"Each national UNISA office will be embarking on projects to visit schools all over the country and make a difference in the lives of under-privileged students. We want to put a smile on their faces, even for just a day," she told DW.

Andile Montzontsisi is a second year Bachelor of Commerce student in Durban. He and his fellow students also plan to do something for the needy in honor of Nelson Mandela.

"On the 18th we are going to an orphanage where we are going to give clothes, money and food for children who have no parents."

No bitterness after years in prison

Nelson Mandela will not, of course, live for ever. Most South Africans hope the rest of his life will be free of any problems

Nelson Mandela with Bill Clinton behind the bars of his Robben Island cell in 1998

Mandela revisited his cell on Robben Island with Bill Clinton in 1998

and that he will continue to be an inspiration not only to the people but also to politicians. "I think when we eventually lose our beloved Nelson Mandela, this country will be at a loss to find a man of his stature and quality," is a typical comment.

One of the freedom activists who spent more than 20 years on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela is Professor Dennis Goldberg. He described Mandela as a "leader among leaders who had a burning desire for freedom for his own people and for all people. He is remembered for coming out of prison as a man who had no bitterness, who did not call for revenge."

Nelson Mandela will spend his 94th birthday at his home in his ancestoral village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape. Among the many prominent people calling on him to pay their tributes is the former United States President Bill Clinton, who is touring the region as part of a humanitarian mission.

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