Around the world, Nelson Mandela Day was celebrated Thursday with acts of community service and messages of goodwill to the former South African president who remains hospitalized on his 95th birthday. Mandela was jailed for 27 years under apartheid and led a difficult transition to democracy, becoming president in all-race elections in 1994. He served one five-year term, evolving into a global statesman and pursuing charitable causes after that.
SOUTH AFRICA: Hospital visitors say Nelson Mandela smiled and nodded Thursday — his 95th birthday — and South Africans celebrated upbeat reports about the former president's health after weeks of worrying that he was on the verge of death.
Children sang Happy Birthday at school assemblies nationwide, and many honored the man known as "the father of the nation" by performing acts of charity for 67 minutes, symbolizing Mandela's 67 years of public service. World leaders praised the anti-apartheid leader's life of sacrifice and vision.
Mandela has been hospitalized since June for a recurring lung infection. The news that his health had improved was another dramatic turn in the life of a man who became a global figure of sacrifice and reconciliation during the fight against white minority rule in South Africa.
Thursday also marked the 15th wedding anniversary of Mandela and Graca Machel, the former first lady of Mozambique who has spent much of the time at her husband's side during his illness.
— Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS: As the United Nations celebrated Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday Thursday, former President Bill Clinton recalled the day Mandela walked out of prison at last. Years later Clinton asked Mandela if he allowed himself to hate his captors.
For a brief moment, the man who became a symbol of peace gave in to hate, he told Clinton. Then he let go.
"He said 'People can take everything. I lost my family, the chance to see my children grow up, the best years of my life. They can take everything except your mind and your heart, those things I decided not to give away'," Clinton said. "He looked at me and smiled and he said, 'Neither should you.' "
The lesson, Clinton said, was simple.
"You can't free anybody else, and you can't serve anybody else, unless first you free yourself from bitterness and hatred and resentment, and the paralysis they bring," he said. "Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years a greater man than when he went in."
— Associated Press
WASHINGTON: The sounds of djembe drums and traditional African music filled the halls of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday as members of Congress, the diplomatic corps and the public ushered in a birthday celebration for Nelson Mandela.
"Scarcely a week — a day — goes by without us pointing to Mandela as an example," said House Speaker John Boehner. "An example of standing on principle, of loving your neighbor, of extending the reach of freedom."
Most of the congressional leadership was at the ceremony, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
But the strongest congressional testimony to Mandela's life came from Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., an outspoken critic of apartheid in South Africa.
"Today, we celebrate the 95th birthday of the first president of the democratic South Africa," she said. "But more than that, we celebrate the life, the legacy and the values of a true lifelong freedom fighter."
— McClatchy Tribune