Divided South Africa Honors Mandela’s Birthday

Angus Shaw, Yahoo! News, July 18, 2012

A nation divided between black and white, rich and poor, came together Wednesday to honor Nelson Mandela, the deeply loved statesman who helped bring freedom to South Africa. The good deeds done on Mandela’s 94th birthday ranged from building houses to performing free eye cataract operations.

Education officials estimated nearly 12 million children kicked off celebrations at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) with resounding “Happy Birthday” choruses in schools from well-funded private institutions to barely furnished rooms in villages. Millions more South Africans joined in from offices, buses, train stations and Mandela Square, set amid the plush skyscrapers and exclusive boutiques of Johannesburg’s Sandton City.

Mandela spent the day quietly with family and friends in southeastern Qunu village, according to Sello Hatang, a spokesman for the Nelson Mandela Foundation. {snip}

Well-wishers placed flowers outside the Mandela homestead and local villagers sang, danced and shared birthday cake. Convicts from the district prison joined in the spirit, volunteering to spruce up the village school by painting and cutting grass.

Communities in South Africa dedicated 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.

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But the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness that Mandela epitomizes has lost its luster in the country as the fruits of political liberation have failed to bring most South Africans a better life. Control of Africa’s biggest economy remains firmly in the hands of the minority whites. The education system to uplift poor South Africans is a shambles. Violent crime is rampant. A small percentage of blacks have become millionaires, some through corruption and ties to Mandela’s governing African National Congress.

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