World leaders have paid tribute to Nelson Mandela on the former South African president’s 95th birthday.
European Union leaders Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, visiting Pretoria for a South African-EU summit, put economic issues aside to cut a cake for the anti-apartheid leader with current President Jacob Zuma.
Doctors say Mandela is “steadily improving” in hospital from a lung infection.
In Washington leaders of the US Congress hosted a ceremony to honour Mandela’s life. There were tributes from both sides of the political divide.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner, said:
“Scarcely a week or day goes by without us pointing to Mandela as an example. An example of standing on principle, of loving your neighbour, and of extending the reach of freedom. All these ideals we cherish, and he has lived the closest to them.”
The House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi added:
“When he was released from prison, he had the courage to turn not to hatred but to love, not to vengeance but to compassion, not to resentment but to reconciliation, and that reconciliation was South Africa’s gift to the world.”
In New York a special event was held at the United Nations headquarters. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed a “giant of our times”.
US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson added his voice, as did former US President Bill Clinton.
“Mandela’s 95 years teach us three lessons. First, you can’t free anybody else, and you can’t serve anybody else unless first you free yourself from bitterness, and hatred, and resentment, and the paralysis they bring. Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years a greater man than he went in,” Clinton said.
Four years ago the UN General Assembly declared July 18 Mandela Day.