QUNU, South Africa – Nelson Mandela sat beaming in a yellow armchair, his legs propped up on a large stool and covered with a pale yellow blanket. Ten grandchildren crowded around to serenade him with “Happy Birthday” and then smothered him with hugs and kisses.
The anti-apartheid icon celebrated his 90th birthday Friday with his family at his home in rural southeastern South Africa and the whole village turned out.
Elders in traditional dress came to pay their respects, sheep were trucked into the property and a troupe of young women sang and danced in preparation for Mandela’s lunch with 500 dignitaries today.
He still found time to settle down to read a pile of newspapers, to keep up with local and international affairs.
Sounding and looking vigorous, Mandela told a small group of reporters he was fortunate to have reached 90, crediting his “behavior” for his longevity.
But the man who has become a symbol of peace remains troubled by the demoralizing poverty still faced by so many of his countrymen.
“If you are poor, you are not likely to live long,” he said.
His message was simple: the wealthy must do more.
“There are many people in South Africa who are rich and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate, who have not been able to conquer poverty,” Mandela said during the 10-minute interview, his first such exchange with journalists in years.
He was asked if he wished he could have had more time with his family during a life spent fighting apartheid and then leading South Africa as its first black president.
“I am sure for many people that is their wish,” Mandela said. “I also have that wish that I spent more time (with my family). But I don’t regret it.”