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Millions of SAfrican children sing forMandela

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) ? Nearly 12
million children across South Africa
kicked off celebrations Wednesday
for the 94th birthday of Nelson
Mandela, the country's deeply loved
anti-apartheid icon, with resounding choruses of Happy Birthday. Mandela is expected to spend the day
privately with his family at their
homestead in his southeastern birth
village of Qunu. Meanwhile,
communities in South Africa and
around the world were dedicating 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. Mandela 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. Tributes to Mandela poured in early
Wednesday, with U.S. President
Barack Obama saying Mandela "has
changed the arc of history,
transforming his country, the
continent and the world." Ahmed Kathrada, one of Mandela's
oldest friends, said Madiba, as he is
affectionately known by his Xhosa
clan name, championed the dignity of
all. "You can be rich but if you don't have
dignity you are a second-class
citizen," Kathrada said in a public
lecture marking the birthday
celebrations. Tokyo Sexwale, a longtime ally in the
governing African Nation Congress,
described Mandela as a global
statesman who inspired the world. At one Johannesburg elementary
school 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 including Beyonce, Michael Jackson and
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. Ntando Ntuli, 12, said with pride: "He
is my hero because he fought for us.
He is an icon, the king of Africa." In 2009, the United Nations
established Nelson Mandela
International Day to honor the African
leader on his birthday through acts of
community service. In many districts, South Africa came to
a virtual standstill early Wednesday as
strangers greeted each other in the
streets and even infants at one pre-
school waved at passersby and sang:
"We love you, Tata," or "great father," a supreme term of endearment. In the eastern port city of Durban Sir
Alex Ferguson, manager of England's
Manchester United football team that
is widely followed in Africa, sang
Happy Birthday over a cake iced with
the image of the team's yellow and red badge. Ferguson, who met Mandela on
previous visits, said "his presence and
personality exudes all around." Manchester United plays the first
game of its South African tour later
Wednesday. South African churchmen and
politicians urged people across the
country "to make every day a
Mandela Day." Former U.S. President Bill Clinton got
the celebrations off to an early start
Tuesday. He and daughter Chelsea
met with Mandela in Qunu.
Photographs tweeted by one of
Mandela's grandsons showed the Nobel Peace Prize winner comfortably
seated in an armchair with a blanket
over his knees and with the Clintons
and his wife, Graca Machel, at his side. 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. Mandela's activism helped bring
democracy and freedom to the once
white-ruled South Africa. But the
country remains beset by tensions
over continued white minority
domination of the economy, massive unemployment, poor education and
health services and the millions who
remain homeless or in shacks ___ Associated Press writer Kim
Chakanetsa contributed to this report
from Johannesburg.
 
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