Nelson Mandela turns 93rd birthday with a song, and a UN request


A group of schoolchildren participate in a symbolic handover on July 17, 2011 at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg to set the tone before the Mandela's 93rd birthday and Mandela Day on July 18, 2011.


Stephane de Sakutin

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, celebrated his 93rd birthday Monday — dubbed Mandela Day — with United Nations calling on individuals to devote 67 minutes to public service to recognize Mandela's work.

The 67 minutes signifies the years he devoted to fighting Apartheid, and pledges have already been made by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, renowned South African activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mandela's wife, women's and children's rights advocate Graca Michel.

About 12 million South African school children sang "Happy birthday dear Tata [father], we love you Tata," in a birthday gift for Mandela televised by the national broadcaster.

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Before the song, President Jacob Zuma said Mandela had laid a solid foundation for this country and called on South Africans to continue his legacy.

"From the moment Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela strode out of prison on the 11th of February 1990, we knew that South Africa would be a different place," Zuma said.

"He showed us that despite the divisive racial oppression and hardships that this nation had gone through, it is not only possible, but necessary to embrace one another and to reconcile the South African people.

"We have achieved a lot, but we must still work further to eradicate poverty and improve especially the lives of children, because Madiba loves them so much. Most importantly, we must spread love, ubuntu, humility and selflessness around us."

Appearing frail but in good spirits, Mandela celebrated with his family in his hometown of Qunu.

U.S President Barack Obama said Mandela set the standard for civil servants around the world.

South Africa's Sunday Times reports:

"Michelle, and my daughters, Sasha and Malia, recently met Madiba during an official visit to South Africa that focused on service, youth leadership, education and healthy living. Their time with Madiba was the most moving part of their trip," Obama said in a statement issued by the US diplomatic mission to South Africa.

"Mandela's legacy exemplifies wisdom, strength and grace, and on the anniversary of his birth we salute the example of his life."

Obama said Mandela, who led the African National Congress struggle against apartheid and became South Africa's first democratically elected president, continued to be a "beacon for the global community".

"On behalf of the people of the United States, we congratulate Nelson Mandela, and honor his vision for a better world.

"A man who devoted 67 years of his life to public service, Madiba sets the standard for service world-wide, whether we are students, shopkeepers or farmers, cabinet ministers or presidents. He calls on us to serve our fellow human beings, and better our communities."

Obama said the United States was honored to join 192 United Nations member states in 2009 to declare July 18 Nelson Mandela International Day, in recognition of his contribution to peace and freedom.

Doing their bit for Mandela Day is a group of bikers in South Africa who have traveled across the country helping out in seven rural community projects along the 2,200 kilometer route, CNN reports.

It's part of the Bikers for Mandela Day initiative and is intended as a gift to Mandela for his birthday.

In the small town of Harrismith the bikers stopped off to paint a small orphanage.

"For Madiba [Mandela], it demonstrates to him that people are passionate about his legacy," says Zelda la Grange, Mandela's personal assistant, who rode with the bikers, CNN reports.

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are full of tributes to the grandfather of the nation.

Some retweeted his famous quotes like: "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall," and "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

The ANC Youth League called for young people to change their profile pictures on social networking sites to photos of the anti-apartheid icon.

"This will be a sign of appreciation and celebration of the role Comrade Nelson Mandela played in the struggle for political, social and economic emancipation of the black majority and Africans in particular," African National Congress Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu in a statement.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate led the struggle to bring down South Africa's system of white minority rule and discrimination against blacks. After being released from prison, he became the country's first black president in 1994 and during his tenure until 1999 frequently gave priority to reconciliation.