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July 17, 2012

South Africa’s Unions Congratulate Mandela on Birthday

by Peter Clottey

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has congratulated anti-apartheid icon and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who celebrates his  94th birthday Wednesday.

COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven said Mandela will continue to be an inspiration to all South Africans, as well as the rest of the world.

“COSATU wished Nelson Mandela a very happy birthday and many more years of happy life.  Nobody has done more to earn it in South Africa and he remains an inspiration to all of us,” said Craven.

“Our message," he added, "is to wish him well and to hope that his inspiration will contribute towards continuing the work, which he so much set in motion both in prison and as president, and which can still inspire us today to solve some of the huge problems, which we still face as a country, particularly the very high rate of unemployment, poverty and inequality.”

Craven said COSATU has enjoyed a strong relationship with Mandela.

“COSATU always has an excellent relationship with Nelson Mandela. When we set up a special award named after our founding president, the Elijah Barayi Award, the first person we gave this to was Nelson Mandela. And, it was an obvious choice; there was no debate about that,” said Craven.

“He always saw the workers and the poor as the main people who have to benefit from political liberation," he added. "And, the tragedy is that, today, many of those are still not completely free.  He has won our political freedom for us, for which we will always be grateful.  But, we still have to struggle to achieve economic freedom about this main challenge, which we face in the years ahead.”

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The U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to mark Nelson Mandela International Day with an informal meeting Wednesday honoring his contributions to democracy, racial justice and reconciliation.

In his message, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Nelson Mandela gave 67 years of his life to bring change to the people of South Africa.  Our gift to him can – and must – be to change our world for the better.”

Craven said South Africans are delighted with the honor Mandela has brought to them.

“[We are] very proud, but it is always a fact that he didn’t only make a huge contribution to South Africa, but he set an example for the rest of the world, which many countries can learn from,” said Craven.

 “There are many parts of [our] world, tragically, which are still engulfed in conflict; the Middle East, Syria in particular at the moment, where the people there could learn lessons in how to live together in peace and harmony, despite the differences, which are rooted in history of different countries, just as they were in South Africa," said Craven.

Clottey interview with COSATU spokesman Patrick Craven