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South Africa Joins Nelson Mandela in Celebrating 90th Birthday

South Africa's elder statesman Nelson Mandela is marking his 90th birthday Friday in a private celebration with his family at his home in the Eastern Cape. However, as VOA's Delia Robertson reports from our bureau in Johannesburg, the rest of the country is celebrating very publicly.

From the national cabinet to kindergartens, from hospital wards to prison cells, and shopping malls to sidewalk-sellers, most South Africans seem to be celebrating the 90th birthday of the much-loved Nelson Mandela, these days affectionately and almost exclusively known here by his clan-name, Madiba.

For many, such as President Thabo Mbeki, marking Madiba's birthday means honoring his legacy.

"And I do hope that when we celebrate the birthday, it will not be only that we say: thank you for the past 90 years, but we must say, thank you for 90 years that have shown us how to move forward, because the task of the transformation of South Africa has not been completed," said Mr. Mbeki.

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's last apartheid-era president, and the man who released Mr. Mandela from nearly three decades of imprisonment, recalled "the six tumultuous years" when as political opponents and leaders of their respective groups, they worked together, not always harmoniously. Even so, Mr. de Klerk says that Mr. Mandela is one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, a man he is now proud to call friend.

"Happy birthday Madiba," he said. "My friend, what you have done for South Africa is wonderful. Your legacy will remain forever, may you live many, many more years to continue in person to promote that legacy."

In a brief address at his Qunu home, Mr. Mandela urged the world's political and business leaders to address global poverty. He told young South Africans to be disciplined in their lives. It is a message that seems already to have been heard by Zama, a young Soweto student speaking on national radio.

"If I had to give Nelson Mandela anything as a 90th birthday present, it would be all the years that he spent in prison, all the years that he dedicated to making our lives better," said Zama. "I am here because of what [he] and other democrats have done for us."

Mr. Mandela's birthday has been marked by many events both in South Africa and abroad. A marathon was run around Robben Island, his prison home for more than two decades; numerous books have been published; he earlier hosted his annual children's party, and a concert in London in support of his charities.

In London he urged the adoption of values of caring for others.

"If a 90-year-old may offer some unsolicited advice on this occasion, it would be that you, irrespective of your age, should place human solidarity [and] a concern for others at the center of the values by which you live," he said.

Mr. Mandela's birthday also marks the tenth anniversary of his marriage to Graca Machel, the former first lady of Mozambique.