Around the globe, schoolchildren, world leaders and everyday citizens are pausing today to honor the 94th birthday of Nelson Mandela, a global icon whom one child in South Africa called “the king of Africa.”
Tributes to Mandela poured in from around the world to honor a special man. In South Africa, 12 million schoolchildren sang “Happy Birthday” to the icon. In his home country and around the world, millions have planned a meaningful tribute to Mandela today: People have pledged to dedicate 67 minutes of the day to volunteer work and projects for the needy—one minute to mark each of Mandela’s 67 years in public service.
It is easy to lose perspective on just how remarkable the life of Mandela has been. After serving as an outspoken young critic of apartheid, Mandela was thrown in jail by the white South African government in 1962. He spent 27 years in prison, finally released in 1990. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and engineered a nonviolent transition from the hated racist apartheid regime to black majority rule in South Africa—a feat previous generations would have thought impossible.
Mandela “has changed the arc of history, transforming his country, the continent and the world,” President Obama said in a statement.
At an elementary school in Johannesburg Wednesday, children watched a film documenting Mandela’s life and his years of service and sacrifice along with a photographic display of him meeting celebrities that included Beyonce, Michael Jackson and soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Nelson Mandela set an example to show us that reconciliation is possible,” said 10-year-old Thakgalo Ditabe. She said she wanted Mandela to know how much he meant to her.
Mandela was joined in Qunu by former president Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea.
Photographs tweeted by one of Mandela’s grandsons showed the Nobel Peace Prize winner sitting with a blanket over his knees and with the Clintons and his wife, Graca Machel, at his side. Clinton’s hand is resting affectionately on Mandela’s arm. Clinton has spoken on numerous occasions about how influential a voice Mandela has been in his life, his presidency and his efforts to help others, particularly in Africa, in the years since his presidency.
Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said the greatest gift the nation could give Mandela on Wednesday would be “to emulate his magnanimity and grace.”
“Mr. Mandela taught us to love ourselves, to love one another and to love our country,” Tutu said.