Johannesburg: South Africa on Wednesday marked 100 years since Nelson Mandela’s birth, with Barack Obama hosting a youth leadership project as archbishop Desmond Tutu led emotional tributes to the late anti-apartheid icon.
Mandela’s birthday on July 18 is celebrated annually around the world with charitable works and the Nelson Mandela Foundation called for people to “take action and inspire change” in his name on the centenary year.
In Johannesburg, Obama told 200 young people attending a leadership course he has set up that Mandela had been a key inspiration in his life.
“Most people around the world think of Mandela as an older man, with hair like mine,” he joked.
“What people of course don’t recall is that he started as a very young man — your age — trying to liberate his country. He then inspired me.”
Obama on Tuesday delivered the centrepiece address of the celebrations to a crowd of 15,000 at a cricket stadium, recalling the “wave of hope that washed through hearts all around the world” when Mandela was released from jail in 1990.
“Through his sacrifice and unwavering leadership and, perhaps most of all, through his moral example, Mandela... came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people,” Obama said.
Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, 86, recalled fond memories of his fellow campaigner against white-minority rule and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“The most extraordinary thing about Nelson Mandela was his ordinariness. He was just a particularly fine example of humanity,” Tutu said in a video message.
“The principles on which he led his life are universal principles of love, fairness and respect of others built on understanding of the vulnerabilities that we all share.”
Tutu recalled Mandela’s willingness to apologise when wrong, and laughed as he remembered that the two used to tease each other over Mandela’s famous colourful shirts and Tutu’s purple clerical robes.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, a protege of Mandela who took office this year, said he would mark “Mandela 100” by donating half his salary to charity and called for others to do the same.
“He led us from the wilderness of conflict and oppression into the land of promise, of freedom, democracy and equality,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa spent Mandela Day in Mvezo in Eastern Cape province, Mandela’s birthplace, at celebrations including the opening of a clinic, a tree planting ceremony and distributions of blankets to elderly citizens.
Machel Graca, Mandela’s widow, led a short walk to promote Mandela’s legacy, while the centenary was marked with the release of a new book of his prison letters and a commemorative bank note.— AFP