1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Mandela turns 91

July 18, 2009

One of the world's most popular political leaders, former South African president, Nelson Mandela, has turned 91. In South Africa his birthday has become Nelson Mandela Day, a day of service.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela
At 91, Nelson Mandela is inspiring his compatriots to serve othersImage: AP

Nelson Mandela turned 91 on Saturday and to honor the anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, South Africa has renamed the day Nelson Mandela Day. The South African government has called on its citizens to spend 67 minutes of their time on this day in service to the less fortunate and the marginalized.

The number 67 represents the number of years the former South African president has spent fighting for freedom, including 27 years as a political prisoner of the former apartheid regime. Mandela fever has gripped the nation as people visited convalescent homes, prisons, hospitals and clinics to make a difference in the lives of others.

"Without this Mandela this country wouldn't be where it is today," enthused 13-year-old Holly Wasserfall of the port city of Durban. "I think it's very important that we do celebrate what he did for us and what he did for this country."

Political leaders of South Africa, who also spent the day visiting the elderly and those afflicted with the HIV-Aids virus, agree. After President Jacob Zuma visited Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, he said that Mandela was an icon that everyone should emulate.

"His contribution, struggle for human rights, for reconciliation in a country that was divided…You know, we are the luckiest to have such an old leader who's still with us and we are very happy to celebrate his birthday.

Patricia De Lille of the Independent Democrats, one of the country's most outspoken political leaders, said she hoped the day would inspire widespread service.

"We do wish Madiba that this is not only on your birthday," she said, using the honorary title that has become synonymous with Mandela. "We have to develop a culture in South Africa where we show that we care and that we want to share just like you."

Author: Subry Govender
Editor: Andreas Illmer

Skip next section Explore more