Madiba still has something to give
Cape Town - South Africans celebrated anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday on Thursday with the good news that he was “smiling and alert” after spending more than 40 days critically ill in hospital.
Crowds of well-wishers gathered outside the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria to wish the elder statesmen well, singing a variety of renditions of “Happy Birthday” at the Celliers Street entrance.
The nation received its own birthday gift when it woke up to the news that Mandela's health was “steadily improving”.
Until now, his condition has been described as critical, but stable.
Mandela was admitted into a Pretoria hospital on June 8 with a recurring lung infection.
Outside the hospital, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula praised the doctors treating Mandela for the work they had done so far.
“He opens his eyes and nods, as if to say: 'I'm here with you and appreciate what you're doing',” she said.
“We never knew (that) on this day Madiba would be looking at us and be smiling and alert. We want to thank the doctors because we owe everything to them,” she said.
Mandela's daughter Zindzi Mandela-Motlhajwa said on Thursday it was encouraging to see signs of recovery.
“I would like to assure you, though I may not be a medical doctor, that Tata is making remarkable progress and we look forward to having him back at home soon,” she said.
“I often tease him, saying 'our father who art in Houghton'. We would like to have him there 1/8in Houghton 3/8, not in hospital.”
She was speaking at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria, after being handed a replica of Mandela's smart card ID by former president Thabo Mbeki.
Mandela-Motlhajwa said it was a honour to receive the historical gift on behalf of her father.
“Today marks this historic event in terms of the recognition of our citizenship and the restoration of the dignity of the majority of our people who were denied and stripped of this dignity,” she said.
President Jacob Zuma, Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and Tshwane mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa were among the visitors to the hospital on Thursday.
“When I visited him today, I found him really stable and I was able to say ‘happy birthday' and he was able to smile,” Zuma said at the sixth South Africa-European Union Summit in Pretoria a short while later.
Former president FW De Klerk said Mandela was approaching the end of his long walk to freedom.
“On his birthday, we should commemorate the remarkable contribution that he has made to South Africa and to all its people,” he said.
“Today should be a time for quiet and respectful contemplation, and not for unseemly squabbling over the ownership of Mr Mandela's heritage.”
The SA Communist Party agreed that people should not use Mandela's name and legacy in vain.
“Yes, Madiba remains a hero of all, but his heroism is owed to his participation and loyalty to the revolutionary programme and movement under the leadership of the African National Congress,” spokesman Malesela Maleka said.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa prayed for his life to be extended.
“Even though he is lying in hospital, we must be grateful for the fact that he is still alive as we celebrate his big day. It is a big day for all of us too,” she said at celebrations in Alexandra, Johannesburg.
The African Christian Democratic Party, and Democratic Alliance DA leader Helen Zille, were encouraged by the news of his improving health.
“We support the '67 minutes of service' pledge to serve the community in honour of the 67 years Nelson Mandela spent serving the public,” Zille said.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko and colleagues rolled up their sleeves on Thursday to help out at the Othandweni Family Centre in Soweto.
“We cannot all be Nelson Mandela, but we can all strive to improve the lot of our fellow citizens. These acts together are a force for the reconciliation he has strived for during his life, and they alter our humanity for the good,” Mazibuko said.
The Food and Allied Workers' Union said it was only right that the nation sacrificed its time to honour Mandela, after all the sacrifices he had made.
SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Neren Rau hoped Mandela's legacy would inspire all South Africans to build the nation.
Correctional Services Minister Sbu Ndebele led a group of people in community service activities in Soweto on Thursday.
Offenders from Leeuwkop prison helped renovate and paint an orphanage. Poor families received food grown and cultivated by offenders at prison farms.
African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said Mandela's values of solidarity, humanity, reconciliation, and service to ordinary people were the foundation of the shared values of the continent.
The African National Congress thanked those people and organisations who had heeded the call to serve others.
In the Eastern Cape, lawyers for Mandela's grandson Mandla Mandela were to return to the High Court in Mthatha on Thursday to seek the return of the remains of three family members to Mvezo, according to The New Age.
Earlier this month, the court ordered him to return the remains of his grandfather's three children to Qunu from Mvezo, where he moved them two years ago. - Sapa