posted on Jul, 20 2003 @ 07:54 PM
By Staff Reporters
His face was like a bright summer morning. Nelson Mandela glowed on Saturday night. In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a long-time neighbour and
friend, he was "like a teenager on a first date after his first kiss". The former president's smile was endless as he greeted his many guests.
Mandela's birthday celebrations, the biggest South Africa has seen, climaxed in style on Saturday night.
The 1 600 guests were given red carpet treatment as they arrived at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg for a gala dinner.
A marimba band - musicians wearing traditional African costumes with feathers in their hair - welcomed the partygoers.
Former US president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda, rock star Bono,
supermodel Naomi Campbell, actors John Cusack and Robert de Niro, singer Barbra Streisand and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey were among the
Local VIPs included President Thabo Mbeki and his wife Zanele, Tutu, Jay Naidoo, Arthur Chaskalson, Johnny Clegg, Patricia de Lille, Mac Maharaj,
Frene Ginwala, Alec Erwin, Essop Pahad, Trevor Manuel, Tokyo Sexwale and Albie Sachs.
Africa's first cosmonaut, Mark Shuttleworth, attended the event with magazine editor Khanyi Dhlomo-Mkhize, as well as Africa’s first black diamond
producer, André Action Jackson, who is celebrating his birthday on the 19th.
Talk-show host Tim Modise, who was the master of ceremonies, called for a minute's silence for Corne Krige's humiliated Bok team, who were among the
Hollywood film stars, pop singers, models, top sports people, state and industry leaders, kings and queens, pharmacists and cleaners present.
The vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo sang a special birthday song for Mandela.
The dinner followed tens of thousands of tributes that poured in from around the world to mark the former president's birthday.
Many world leaders sent formal messages of congratulation, while ordinary South Africans flooded Telkom with more than 15 000 calls and the cellphone
service providers with more than 22 000 short message greetings.
The final stage of the celebration will be the official opening of the Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg on Sunday with a road race.
While the festivities - which started on Friday when Mandela hosted a group of children at his home in Houghton - continued on Saturday, Mandela
attended the funeral of his daughter-in-law. Later he joined Clinton at the inaugural Nelson Mandela lecture at the Civic Theatre in Johannesburg.
In his address Clinton said: "In all of history there's a story of struggle. In my lifetime there are only two people who have made that personal
journey... Mahatma Gandhi, and his worthy successor, Nelson Mandela."
The former US president said a suitable birthday present from the world to Mandela would be the discovery of a vaccine and a cure for Aids, debt
relief for African countries and an economic boom for the continent.
Clinton called on the world to follow Mandela's example and to work towards the common good of humanity. He highlighted HIV/Aids as one of the
biggest issues that needed to be addressed. He also called for the criteria for debt relief to be revisited. "We need another round of debt relief
and we need South Africa and Nigeria to be included," Clinton said.
"Politically, it should be easier to get debt relief than debt aid. The way governments do their budget is that they don't expect to get paid back
for their debt."
Clinton also called for an increase in African exports, saying he hoped US President George Bush would push for further trade with Africa.
"If you want to give Madiba a birthday present you should do something to deal with Africa's challenges and to tap into Africa's promises. Africa
abounds with what works and we have to take what works and spread it across the continent."
Clinton referred to his wife's first book, which had taken its title from an African saying: "It takes a village to raise a child. If we live in a
global village then we are truly responsible for every child."
He said the world needed to follow Mandela's life example: despite people's differences, a common humanity mattered more.