- Associated Press - Monday, July 18, 2011

JOHANNESBURG — Former President NelsonMandela spent his 93rd birthday with friends and relatives in his rural hometown Monday, as South Africans paid tribute to the anti-apartheid icon through song and community service projects.

Millions of South African schoolchildren began their day by singing a special version of “Happy Birthday” To Mandela, leading worldwide chorus of birthday wishes.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Mandela “a beacon for the global community, and for all who work for democracy, justice and reconciliation.”

South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, also paid a visit to Mandela in his home village of Qunu, some 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Johannesburg. Zuma spent more than two hours with the former president, before leaving with members of the Mandela family, including the icon’s former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.


“I came to spend time with the Mandela family, to rejoice with them, but also to eat cake. There was a huge cake,” Zuma said with a smile.

Mandela is absolutely in good spirits,” he said.

Photos released of Mandela showed the 93-year-old smiling broadly while sitting in a yellow fabric arm chair surrounded by relatives.

People around the world were asked to mark his birthday by giving 67 minutes of their time to work in their local community — one minute for every year of Mandela‘s public service.

He became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 after spending 27 years in prison for his fight against racist apartheid rule, and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Nazly Mayet, a Johannesburg mother of four, brought her children to a local community hall afterschool to play with disadvantaged children from nearby shelters.

“Being South African means volunteering your time on Mandela Day,” she said.

Mandela is “the person that represents our freedom, opportunities for everyone … He seems quite fragile, but his spirit will live forever.”

Mandela‘s public appearances have become increasingly rare, though he did appear at the closing ceremony of the World Cup one year ago.

Earlier this year, he was hospitalized for a few days with an acute respiratory infection.

Last month, he held a private meeting with Michelle Obama when the first lady traveled to South Africa with her daughters.

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