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Thursday, 18 July 2013

South Africa Comes Together to Honor Nelson Mandela as he turns 95


South Africans celebrated Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday with singing, prayers and community service, marking a milestone that elicited an outpouring of nostalgia and camaraderie as the former president remains hospitalized for a sixth week.
Mr. Mandela was on the mend on Thursday after weeks in "critical but stable" condition, said President Jacob Zuma's spokesman, Mac Maharaj.
"His doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving." Mr. Maharaj said.

Mr. Mandela was admitted to a Pretoria hospital on June 8 to treat a lung infection, one of
many he has battled since contracting tuberculosis during 27 years in prison for opposing South Africa's former white-minority regime.
Last weekend Mr. Mandela's successor as president, Thabo Mbeki, suggested Mr. Mandela might soon be released to recuperate at home, but Mr. Maharaj wouldn't comment on what he called "speculation."
As Mr. Mandela's hospitalization has dragged on, South Africans have wrestled with the mortality of the man who led them to a new era after he became the country's first black president in 1994.
Across the country and beyond, people did 67 minutes of community service on Thursday, a Mandela birthday ritual marking his 67 years of public service: two decades fighting the apartheid-era regime, followed by the 27 years in prison and then two decades as president and conscience of the nation until he retired from public life in 2010.
"If I could meet him today I would just say thank you—thank you for the freedom I have," said Tshego Molubi, a 29-year-old office manager who visited a Soweto elementary school on Thursday morning with a dozen colleagues to donate $500 for a new library.
If Mr. Mandela's declining health has united a nation it has also divided his family, as his children and grandchildren have squabbled over his estate and whether to move Mandela family graves.
But the family has sought to present a united front for Mr. Mandela's birthday this week.
On Wednesday, two of his granddaughters launched the latest range of their Long Walk to Freedom clothing line in a sports store in an upscale Johannesburg shopping mall. The shirts were emblazoned with Mr. Mandela's signature and words such as Legend and Mayibuye, a rallying cry Mr. Mandela often used.
Mr. Mandela's hospitalization has also fanned debate over whether the African National Congress party that he led to power is still advancing his vision for a country that is both economically and racially equitable.
President Zuma marked Mr. Mandela's birthday on Thursday by dedicating a new housing project in Pretoria, the capital. One of the cornerstones of ANC policy has been building houses for the millions of black South Africans relegated to squatter camps during apartheid. As Mr. Zuma inspected the small stucco homes, ANC members and residents sang "my president," referring to Mr. Zuma.
The South African government also used Mr. Mandela's birthday to introduce new national identification cards, and said the former president would be among the first recipients.
But even Mr. Zuma has acknowledged that on some fronts Mr. Mandela's vision is unfulfilled.
South Africa's unemployment rate is 25.2%, and income inequality is wider than when Mr. Mandela took office. Economic growth is slowing, and South Africa's critical mining sector has been upended by labor turmoil since police shot and killed dozens of miners on strike outside Johannesburg last year.
"I have been living in a shack for 19 years," said Grace Kgankga, 50 years old, who was bused to the new housing development from a nearby shantytown to sing during Mr. Zuma's tour. "I am really happy for these people who get these new houses but my heart hurts. I'm a member of the ANC but I still don't have a house."
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