It is no ordinary birthday, as news that Nelson Mandela turned 90 on Friday made headlines throughout South Africa all week.
Millions of people around the world have paid tributes to Africa’s greatest stat esman and the local media made the most of the milestone event.
Most newspapers used the banner headline ‘Happy Birthday Mandela’ and their page s were filled with glowing reports of the celebrant’s extra-ordinary achievement s as well as glowing tributes to him.
The Times summed up the mood of the day with the comment: “On the slopes of the Magaliesburg, a farm worker will stop to think of greatness. At the stock exchan g e in Sandton, a trader will take a rest and remember this moment.
“In a classroom in Nelspruit, a pupil will halt his writing and mark the occassi on. Behind a desk in an office in Polokwane, a secretary will cease typing and r e call him. Across the length and breadth of this great country today, we stand un i ted and say with one voice: Happy birthday, Nelson Mandela.”
On a more sombre note, the Mail & Guardian said South Africa faces a host of pro blems that challenge the dream Mandela embodies of a harmonious rainbow nation.
“Mandela, imprisoned for 27 years but forgiving of his former captors, is hailed as a shining example of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. His smile a nd sense of humour have made him a treasured international icon. He is rare amon g African leaders in agreeing to give up power quickly, after only one term, foll o wing the 1994 end-of-apartheid elections.
“He transcends races and opinions in South Africa itself, acclaimed by all sides of society, including white South Africans whose rule he fought to overthrow. Y e t his birthday comes at a time of crisis in the country under the rule of his su c cessor, Thabo Mbeki, widely attacked for failures in fighting AIDS, poverty, a m a jor power crisis, violent crime and the disaster in neighbouring Zimbabwe.”
Describing how Mbeki was hailed when he became president, Financial Mail editor Barney Mthombothi wrote: “Needless to say, their prince has turned out to be a f r og,” adding: “Mandela united the country. Mbeki has divided it … It’s sad to s e e the current lot trashing his legacy.”
The Sowetan offered the following front page poem:
Relentlessly you had to strive Countless dangers you survived Miracle it is to see you alive And miracle you indeed performed Much silent tears you shed Many agonies you underwent A youth spent in jail Divine help you never looked frail
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi Struggle you never gave up As Mahatma Gandhi never gave up
You prayed You meditated Heaven heard Heaven answered
An invisible hand Struck through Mandela’s hand South Africa broke the chain! Your wish earnest and Granted Men and women, Young and old Breathed the air of freedom
Away went cruelty Laid by cruelest of men on men With spirit unbroken With wounds still unhealed With thoughts unhampered In the name of unity For unity Pardon to foes you granted
It takes great courage To forgive an enemy So vile, So hostile, Yet in doing so You certainly put in the celestial world A smile
Seeing you entering Buckingham Palace In honour, glory and grace Scared by tyrannical apartheid One sunny morning A young man With a guitar in hand Sadly sang and said “Welcome Mr Nelson Mandela Never forget who you are.”