JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela returned to his childhood village ahead of his 93rd birthday on Monday as South Africa and the world prepared to honour the most celebrated living statesman on the planet.
For the third year, at the request of his charitable foundation, July 18 will be observed as Mandela Day, recognised by the United Nations as a global call to volunteer for good causes for 67 minutes — representing each year of Mandela’s life in active politics.
“It is hard to sum up Mandela’s achievements and contribution to the country’s struggle for freedom,” said Mr Shadrack Gutto, of the Centre for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa.
“A leader of Mandela’s calibre serves as a symbol of humility and selflessness,” said Gutto.
The ailing former president arrived at his childhood village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape on Thursday in a military medical aircraft.
His trip was done discreetly, the public and journalists were kept away.
It was unclear where Mandela would spend his birthday as his foundation refused to comment on his plans.
However he is expected to celebrate it with his family, which he has rarely left since a health scare in January when he was hospitalised for an acute respiratory infection.
He was last seen in public just before his last birthday, when he and his third wife Mr Graca Machel made an appearance at the football World Cup final.
It’s a far cry from the fanfare that once greeted his birthday.
For his 90th, Mandela jetted off to London for a charity concert with the likes of Will Smith and Annie Lennox to raise money for his AIDS charity; hosted a speech in Johannesburg by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; and threw a party for hundreds of children at his home.
This year, 93 children from around the country are invited to his foundation on Monday, but they aren’t expected to meet the man most South Africans know as Madiba, his clan name.
All the nation’s 12.4 million school children will erupt in song in a special “Happy Birthday” rendition with an African twist, penned by a local composer.
“It hopes to mobilise the entire society to promote education, unity and social cohesion in honour of Madiba,” said the Basic Education Minister, Ms Angie Motshekga.