QUNU, South Africa — Nelson Mandela sat beaming in a yellow armchair, his legs propped up on a large stool and covered with a pale yellow blanket. Ten grandchildren crowded around to serenade him with Happy Birthday and then smothered him with hugs and kisses. The antiapartheid icon celebrated his 90th birthday Friday with his family at his home in rural southeastern South Africa, and the whole village turned out. Birthday messages have been pouring in, including one Friday from President Bush, who applauded Mandela as "a great example of courage, hope, and the power of freedom." Mandela spoke with reporters for about 10 minutes, his first such exchange with journalists in years. Here are some highlights:
What is the message you would like to share with the children of the world, the children of the continent and South Africa?
Whether you are going to stay long depends on yourself and your behavior. It is possible for anybody to reach this age. The only problem, of course, is that when you go to the country, even in town, poverty has gripped our people. And if you are poor, it is not likely for you to live for a long time.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently? Your wife and many of your grandchildren have suggested that perhaps you wished you had spent more time with your family. Is that something you think about as you look back?
I am sure for many people that is their wish, and I also have that wish that I spent more time (with my family). … I don't regret it because the things that attracted me were things that pleased my soul.
What is your message for world leaders and also to South African leaders?
There are many people in South Africa who are rich, who can share those riches with people who are not so fortunate, who have not been able to conquer poverty.
Today is not only your birthday but also your wedding anniversary. Perhaps you could reflect on 10 years of marriage?
It's not easy to talk about the 10 years of my marriage, except to say that I am happy to have had a wife like her.