19 Jul 2008

Mandela marks 90th with message to help poor

6:39 am on 19 July 2008

Nelson Mandela, the man credited with ending apartheid in South Africa, has marked his 90th birthday by calling for the rich to do more for the poor.

When asked by reporters whether he had a message for the world, he called on the rich to share with those who have failed to conquer poverty.

"If you are poor, you are not likely to live long," he said at his village house in Eastern Cape province for a birthday interview on Friday. He was expected to spend the day at home with his family.

Mr Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his part in the ANC campaign against white minority rule but went on to become the country's first black president in 1994.

Since stepping down in 1999, he has become South Africa's highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids and helping to secure his country's right to host the 2010 football World Cup.

In 2004, at the age of 85, Mr Mandela retired from public life to spend more time with his family and friends and engage in "quiet reflection".

On Friday, he appeared before reporters to say: "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".

The fight against poverty is one of the causes taken up by Mr Mandela. Three years ago, he attended a huge rally in London as part of the Make Poverty History campaign.

Mr Mandela's predecessor as president, FW de Klerk, described him as one of the greatest figures of the last century.

Mr de Klerk, who was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize along with Mr Mandela, said the former president was a born leader with the "assurance, the humility and the grace of a true natural aristocrat".

As president, he added, Mr Mandela had "used his personal charm to ... mould our widely diverse communities into an emerging multicultural nation".

Friday also marked 10 years since Mr Mandela married his third wife, Graca Machel. "He is simply a wonderful husband … and we enjoy every single day as if it is the last day," she told CNN.

The official birthday party is due to be held on Saturday in a gigantic white marquee erected in Qunu village.

Birthday celebrations abroad have been going on for several weeks, including a concert in June in London's Hyde Park.