Saturday, July 19, 2008

Happy 90th, Madiba!

One of the most extraordinary figures in living memory, former South African president Nelson Mandela turned 90 today. He was instrumental in ending apartheid and the country's peaceful transition to a democracy and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Few can fail to be humbled by the legacy of a man who could spend 27 years in prison and emerge without bitterness or anger, but the desire to unite a country and create the so-called "rainbow nation".

Since he left active politics, Mandela's successor Mbeki has failed to instill the same confidence. His silence on the issue of Zimbabwe and notorious failure to acknowledge the link between HIV and Aids, has set the country back a few steps. Potential investors can hardly be encouraged by the possibility of government sanctioned violent land grabs and a health minister advocating a diet of beetroot to cure Aids.

But while things may have slipped a little, there is no doubt that Mandela's wisdom and insight helped move South Africa into a positive new age. A move that had reverberations across the globe. Since leaving the political arena, he has remained active in his Aids charity, work towards ending poverty and his Nelson Mandela Foundation. He has touched the lives of millions through his example and ensuring a better land in which its children may grow up. And, at the ripe old age of 90, the great man's intellect, humour and charm are as keen as ever.

At the 6th Annual Nelson Mandela Address, he joked in his typical deadpan fashion:

"We have, for years, remarked about people coming to such events primarily to see what an old man looks like. To see a 90 year old in real life must surely be an irresistable temptation."

Irresistable indeed. But for a thousand more reasons.

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