Pretoria - The Department of Home Affairs issued a smart ID card for former president Nelson Mandela as the ailing statesman celebrated his 95th birthday on Thursday.
On his father’s behalf, Mandela's daughter Zindzi Mandela-Motlhajwa was handed a replica of the card by former president Thabo Mbeki at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria.
Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor said the transformation from the ID book to the high tech ID card was symbolic of South Africa’s expedition in the democratic dispensation.
“Today we reach another milestone in the process of restoring dignity to South African citizens. Today we begin the process of replacing the ID books with the smart ID cards, which are symbolic of our liberation,” she said.
Pandor said the first smart cards would be issued to eminent people including President Jacob Zuma, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Graca Machel, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, and Mbeki.
Other recipients of the first batch of cards would be Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, former president FW de Klerk, and struggle veterans Sophie de Bruyn, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Dennis Goldberg.
Pandor said other recipients include aged South Africans, some of whom were 100-years-old.
“The ID smart card is a way of affirming citizenship and using digital technology to protect the integrity of our identity as South Africans. It was here at the Union Building on May 10 in 1994 that [former] president Mandela became the first president of a democratic South Africa.
“We wish our founding president an extremely happy birthday,” she said.
Mandela has spent the past 41 days in a Pretoria hospital.
On Thursday, the presidency said his health was “steadily improving”.
“Madiba remains in hospital in Pretoria, but his doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving,” spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.
Until now, his condition has been described as critical but stable.
“On behalf of government and all the people of South Africa, we wish Madiba a joyous 95th birthday,” Zuma said.
“We are proud to call this international icon our own as South Africans and wish him good health.”
In 2009, July 18 was declared Mandela Day to honour the former statesman, with people encouraged to dedicate 67 minutes of their time to nation-building and charity in recognition of his service towards securing democracy and restoring human dignity.
“We thank all our people for supporting Madiba throughout the hospitalisation with undying love and compassion,” said Zuma.
“We also thank all for responding to the call to give Madiba the biggest birthday celebration ever this year.”