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Happy Birthday, Madiba! South Africa Honors 95-Year-Old Nelson Mandela

July 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
South Africans celebrated Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday by volunteering 67 minutes -- the number of years Mandela spent fighting apartheid and serving as his nation's first black president. Kwame Holman reports on how people around the world marked the Nobel laureate's milestone.

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: a milestone in the life of former South African leader Nelson Mandela. He turned 95 today.

We go again to Kwame for the story.


WOMAN: Hip, hip!


KWAME HOLMAN: Schoolchildren joined the chorus of South Africans in celebrations of Mandela’s long life.

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IVIWE MVITSHANE, student: Happy birthday, Tata Nelson Mandela. We are all praying for you to get better soon.

KWAME HOLMAN: Across the country, people marked the occasion by volunteering 67 minutes to charitable work. That’s one minute for each of the years Mandela spent fighting apartheid, and then serving as the nation’s first black president.

The current president, Jacob Zuma, welcomed families into newly-built, low-income housing outside Pretoria. And he spoke of the man known to all by his tribal name.

PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA, South Africa: What is being done by everybody today, to take some time and do something for people in honor of Madiba. That’s why we came today, to do our own here.

KWAME HOLMAN: Elsewhere, hundreds flooded into a Johannesburg convention center to pack meals for the poor.

WOMAN: It’s important for me, because it’s like I am doing something. Like, for example, I sleep every day with a meal. And there are people out there who don’t have anything meal to eat. So, for me, it’s like, wow, it’s something that I do for someone who doesn’t have anything.  

KWAME HOLMAN: And in Capetown, Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped paint walls in a local orphanage.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: And, today, people are thinking about Madiba because it is international Madiba day. And he makes us walk tall as South Africans and reminds us that we have the capacity to be this fantastic nation.

KWAME HOLMAN: Tributes also poured in from around the globe.

DALAI LAMA, exiled Tibetan spiritual leader: I would like to express my — firstly, my admiration about the great man Nelson Mandela.

KWAME HOLMAN: Leading figures, including the Dalai Lama and former President Bill Clinton, spoke in a Nelson Mandela Center of Memory video.

FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: We have all equally been awed by his dedication to others and by his inspiration to serve as he did, working to build a more just and peaceful world.

KWAME HOLMAN: Leaders of the U.S. House also weighed in, praising the legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Scarcely, a week or day goes by without us pointing to Mandela as an example, an example of standing on principle, of loving your neighbor, and of extending the reach of freedom.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif.: He had the courage to turn, not to hatred, but to love, not to vengeance, but to compassion, not to resentment, but to reconciliation.

KWAME HOLMAN: The patriarch himself remained in a Pretoria heart clinic, where he was admitted June 8 with a recurring lung infection. There’ve been conflicting reports about his condition, but, today, hospital visitors generally gave upbeat reports. Mandela’s daughter said he’s making remarkable progress.

ZINDZI MANDELA, daughter of Nelson Mandela: Over the past three weeks or so, I have just seen a huge turnaround. Of course, I am not a medical doctor. They are the ones who will decide or determine when he goes back home, but I am confident it will be some time soon.

KWAME HOLMAN: One grandson was more cautious, saying Mandela is still critical, but a lot more alert.