Nelson Mandela. File photo: Reuters

Johannesburg - Politicians, unionist and NGOs put their differences aside on Wednesday in an outpouring of good wishes to former president Nelson Mandela on his 94th birthday.

They spoke enthusiastically about how they did their 67 minutes of community service to mark his birthday, with many encouraging more regular volunteer work.

“Beyond the 67 minutes, let's make each day a Mandela day,” said Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale in a speech prepared for delivery at the Mandela Museum in Mthatha.

“We as South Africans should consider ourselves the luckiest people on this planet at this time to live in the same country breathing the same air under the same sun with Nelson Mandela,” he said.

The Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union suggested that the day be declared a public holiday so that people could donate more than 67 minutes.

The African National Congress paid tribute to its past president, saying: “We believe that the spirit of goodwill deriving from the Mandela Day has achieved its intention of generating warmth, care and spreading a positive mindset amongst people.

“We would like to urge the people of South Africa and the world to make the 67 minutes a daily experience which may assist in fostering cohesion amongst our people.”

Musi Maimane, spokesman for the Democratic Alliance, said: “I urge everyone who participated in Mandela Day today to go back to their chosen projects throughout the year and give more time to community service.”

Helping each other overcome circumstances was ultimately the most powerful way to honour Madiba’s values and vision, he said.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said in a speech prepared for delivery at the Mandela Day celebrations in Zeerust: “In honouring his legacy, we ought to learn from Madiba's impeccable work ethic, his tolerance and selfless leadership, his willingness to forgive and to lead with integrity.”

The National Union of Mineworkers said its programme of activities, which included distributing blankets among the poor in Carletonville, would last until year-end.

The SA Communist Party said the country's task was to build a “truly democratic, non-sexist and non-racial South Africa in honour of Madiba”.

Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Mashatile thanked people who had done volunteer work for “taking time for making a change in the lives of our people”.

Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi drew parallels between himself and Mandela, who had helped him on a personal level over the years. Besides their political lives, both also had children who died as a result of HIV/Aids.

“As we all get caught up in the spirit of Mandela Day, I hope that the lessons of peace and integrity truly create change,” said Buthelezi.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA called it a “glittery day” and a “rare moment to celebrate Comrade Mandela and his generation of principled revolutionaries...”

The ANC Women's League wanted everyone to embrace each other “as a nation” and continue his good work of working towards a socially cohesive society.

The abaThembu people “at large” said they were proud to have an international icon of Mandela's calibre, who made the abaThembu known throughout the world, and said they would dedicate their national gathering on Saturday to him. - Sapa