A massive banner reading Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela was beamed across the world at the start of yesterdays stage of the Tour de France cycle race in Pau. The organisers of

Tears of joy, a jubilant community, a grateful birthday girl and the spirit of Mandela Day in the air.

This was the scene in KwaNdengezi on Wednesday when a 107-year-old grandmother, Sarah Ngema, was given the ultimate birthday surprise by city manager Sibusiso Sithole, mayor James Nxumalo and several city officials.

Members of the municipality made their contribution to the Mandela Day celebrations, travelling to a number of destinations.

Among other things, they performed maintenance tasks at the JL Dube school and distributed blankets at the Ingwemabala orphanage. But their final stop, to visit Ngema, was the most special.

“I am so grateful and so thankful,” said Ngema, unable to hold back tears.

The municipality promised to repaint her home and renovate her garden. She was given a birthday cake and a gift bag.

“We do this to spread the spirit of ubuntu, the spirit that Mandela embodies,” said Sally Padayachie, widow of public service and administration minister Roy Padayachie.

She handed out blankets to Ngema and several other elderly women in the community.

Sithole said he believed that it was no coincidence that the former president and KwaNdengezi’s oldest resident shared the same birthday.

“Both Madiba and Ngema are symbols of resilience and hard work,” he said.

Throughout her youth, Ngema sustained herself through subsistence farming.

“Youngsters need to be independent and try to improve themselves,” Sithole said.

“Mandela is an icon of human dignity. By doing this we join the spirit of caring garnered by this special day.”

Ngema said: “Mandela is still a young man to me.”

All around the province, people helped the elderly and orphaned children, and carried out repairs to infrastructure.

From large corporates to small businesses to ordinary people, the Mandela Day spirit was felt.

Film producer Anant Singh, who is working on the Mandela biopic Long Walk To Freedom, donated key sets from the movie to the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu.

“It is amazing how Madiba continues to impress globally,” said Singh.

Employees of the KZN Department of Traditional Affairs wanted to make an impact that would last for many years, said senior general manager Ntokozo Chonco.

“The idea was not to do something for one day, but for three to five years, if not more,” he said in Maqongqo, near Pietermaritzburg.

About 100 employees raised more than R15 000 to provide three families – a child-headed household, an unemployed couple and their children, and a grandfather who supports nine children – with what they needed.

The team planted a vege-table garden for unemployed Ntombifuthi Ngubane and her husband, Zomakahle Mkhize. They have five children. The children were given school uniforms and the eldest a scholarship to study next year.

For the child-headed household, the team pledged to provide the 15-year-old Grade 8 pupil with monthly groceries for herself and her 21-year-old unemployed brother until she finished matric.

Their kitchen was also fitted with appliances.

The staff are also to arrange a bursary so the schoolgirl may study further after she matriculates, if she so chooses. - The Mercury