CELEBRATION TIME: Madiba relaxes at his home in Qunu on Monday. Photo: Lyoness.TV

Aziz Hartley,

Deon de Lange,

Bongani Fuzile and Sapa

NELSON Mandela’s 94th birthday today has been elevated to an internationally recognised and celebrated event thanks to his “sterling contribution to the achievement of justice, freedom and democracy in our country”, said President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma’s comment comes as the world’s biggest birthday party kicks off today, with millions around the world stepping forward and doing something good for others in celebration of Mandela.

Reminding citizens of the sacrifices the Nobel Prize winner and democratic South Africa’s first president had made throughout his life, Zuma said:

“As we join the world to celebrate Madiba’s birthday, we will be emphasising that he is indeed special to South Africa in many ways.

“As we acknowledge the selfless contribution of this exceptional compatriot, we need to understand him in a more holistic manner,” said Zuma in his weekly ANC newsletter.

He noted that Mandela had played roles ranging from “Madiba the freedom fighter, the Volunteer-in-Chief of the ANC (and) the Umkhonto we Sizwe Commander-in-Chief” to “Madiba the skilful political strategist and revolutionary”.

Mandela’s village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape has been besieged by the media for Nelson Mandela International Day – as it has been declared by the UN – with close friends and family seen being escorted into Mandela’s home by convoys of vehicles yesterday.

Photographers positioned themselves outside the entrance to the home, and attempted to follow exiting vehicles in hopes of confirming whoever had visited Mandela.

Mandela’s wife Graça

Machel said he was doing well and looked forward to his 94th birthday.

“Madiba has recovered very well and the only thing he complains about are his legs, which he says they don’t obey him,” she said.

Former US president Bill Clinton visited Mandela at his birthplace in Qunu yesterday. Clinton was also a guest of honour at NoMoscow Senior Primary School which will receive thousands of books from his foundation.

“My friend Nelson Mandela is not thinking of the past but thinking about the future and we need to do that as people and leaders. Let us think of these children, they are our future,” said Clinton.

Ahmed Kathrada, who was imprisoned with Mandela, said Madiba always maintained that he was no saint but a human being with weaknesses and strengths.

Kathrada was delivering the annual Nelson Mandela Legacy Address at the Tshwane University of Technology last night.

Prior to 1994, Africans had no dignity but that year it changed, Kathrada said. He said although many people in the country had their dignity, there were those who still don’t.

“There is no dignity in poverty or unemployment. Until the day when every child can go to bed with a full stomach and wakes up with a smile plus breakfast, that is when we can say that is what we fought for,” said Kathrada.

Sapa reported that the guest list for today’s lunch with Mandela in Qunu has been closely guarded and that only key employees and local caterers are allowed entry into the homestead.

About a kilometre from Mandela’s house, events are under way at the Nelson Mandela Museum.

South Africans will paint schools, plant trees, visit old age homes and sing happy birthday to celebrate Mandela’s 94th birthday.

Parliament issued a statement yesterday calling on all South Africans to participate in Mandela Day.

“Following his release from prison in 1990, Madiba promised that he would place the remaining years of his life in the hands of the people. Although he served us for five years as president, we benefited from his leadership for many more and he continues to inspire us,” a parliamentary statement said.

Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota said Mandela remained a role model for millions of people across the world and that Madiba “deserves a recognition that aims to change the lives of the less fortunate, an ideal for which he lived”.

“His heroic work and humanity should spread throughout the world and continue to touch young and old souls,” Lekota said.

DA national spokesman Mmusi Maimane said Mandela was an inspiration to all South Africans.

“He has lived an exemplary life and we want to wish him well and good health. Ultimately, we want to say: ‘Thank you, Madiba’. Because every time his birthday comes around, it reminds us of who we can become as a nation and what type of leaders we can produce,” he said.

The FW de Klerk Foundation hailed Mandela’s enormous contribution to national reconciliation and to the birth of the country’s non-racial constitutional democracy.

In Cape Town, individuals, NGOs community groups and companies among others will spend 67 minutes of their time to help those less fortunate. The 67 minutes are symbolic of the years Mandela spent in the Struggle.