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Africa
Mandela speaks out for the poor
Man who led the struggle against apartheid in South Africa is marking his 90th birthday.
Last Modified: 19 Jul 2008 00:36 GMT
Mandela will mark his birthday at home
with his wife Graca Machel [AFP]

Nelson Mandela has bemoaned the growing gap between rich and poor in his country as he marked his 90th birthday.

"There are many people in South Africa who are rich and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate who have not been able to conquer poverty," South Africa's first black president said.

The anti-apartheid hero said he was fortunate to have reached 90 but added that "poverty has gripped our people".

"If you are poor, you are not likely to live long," he told reporters on Friday at his rural home in the Eastern Cape province.

Mandela's family held a private party for his birthday, surrounded by grandchildren and relatives in the rural southeastern village of Qunu, which is also the same day as the 10th anniversary of his marriage to third wife Graca Machel.

"It's been quite a fulfilling period of our lives together ... [because] we enjoy every day we look back on, it is like it has been long but it is also short. Ten years is not that much, is it?" Machel, who is the widow of Samora Machel, former president of Mozambique, told Al Jazeera.

Mandela, who led a 27-year struggle against white rule in South Africa through the African National Congress (ANC), is one of the country's most revered figures.

"I think in a turbulent world, which has been the last decades of the 20th century and now the 21st century,  he offers really that sense of dignity, the sense of perseverance in what is good … [and] what is just," Machel said.

Long fight

Mandela's political activities began in 1943, when he joined the ANC to campaign against the apartheid regime.

As resistance grew stronger, the ANC was outlawed and in 1964, Mandela was charged with treason.

He was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to overthrow the government, and was finally released on February 11th, 1990.

Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with FW de Klerk, then South Africa's president, becoming the country's first black head of state the following year.

He stepped down from the presidency in 1999 and has spent most of his time since campaigning for Aids awareness.

Celebrations continue

Mandela was imprisoned by South Africa's apartheid government for 27 years
The private celebration on Friday comes after public events to mark Mandela's birthday.

An open-air concert in London and the launch of coins and stamps bearing Mandela's image have raised funds for his charitable foundation.

Thabo Mbeki, the current South African president, and Jacob Zuma, leader of the ANC, are among about 500 guests a another celebratory gathering scheduled for Saturday in Qunu.

A boxing tournament is also scheduled to go ahead to reflect Mandela's keen interest in the sport, while a concert is set to go ahead in Johannesburg's Mandela Square.

De Klerk paid tribute to Mandela, calling him a key figure of the 20th century.

"After his inauguration, Nelson Mandela used his personal charm to promote reconciliation and to mould our widely diverse communities into an emerging multicultural nation," he said.

"This, I believe, will be seen as his greatest legacy."

Zelda le Grange, Mandela's personal assistant, told Al Jazeera that he "personifies what [humans] want to be".

"While he says he has vices and virtues like any other human being, he is what we want to be," she said.

Sepp Blatter, president of football's world governing body FIFA, which awarded South Africa the 2010 World Cup, said Mandela was the "epitome of grace and dignity, a man with determination to overcome even the greatest odds".

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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