20 July 2003

South Africa: A Week of Celebration, a Week of Pain

Johannesburg — IT WAS a time of joy and tears as Madiba celebrated his 85th birthday this weekend. While international and local celebrities converged on the Sandton Convention Centre to party with the former President, he also spent the weekend consoling his only remaining son, Makgatho, as he buried his wife of 19 years.

Nelson Mandela's actual birthday on Friday started on a high note when South African Airways gave him first-class tickets for life, made a fly-past over his Houghton, Johannesburg, home and named the first aircraft in its new fleet after him.

Alan Ford, talk-show host on Radio 702, said he would be presenting Mandela with a special carved cedar tree, a symbol of strength and growth in the Lebanese culture.

"The one side of the tree has a picture of Jesus and this is about Madiba's saintly status on earth. The other side depicts children, something very close to his heart."

Former Miss South Africa Basetsana Kumalo said she had had some difficulty finding the "perfect gift for the perfect person".

Singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka said she had not even tried to find the perfect gift, but would instead pray for Mandela. " [I will] ask for God to spare him. He's touched our lives, given us back our dignity . . . [I will] ask for him to be looked after well," she said.

Designer Norman Callan said he and his staff had made a shirt for the shirt-loving Madiba.

But events took a more sombre note yesterday morning when Mandela attended the funeral of his daughter-in-law, Joyce, who died last Friday after battling with pneumonia for three weeks.

A frail and tired-looking Madiba - supported by his wife, Graça Machel - made his way into the Diepkloof Welfare Hall in Soweto at 8am for the service.

Mandela - who presented his son and three grandsons with flowers - hugged his grandchildren after the ceremony and asked if they were all right.

But he was unable to accompany the funeral convoy to the Doornkop Cemetery as he was expected at the Civic Theatre in Braamfontein for the inaugural Nelson Mandela Annual lecture, by former US President Bill Clinton and attended by U2 frontman Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson.

Also at the funeral were Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, their daughter Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane and grandson Mandla Mandela.

Mandela's first wife, Makgatho's mother, Evelyn, was unable to attend after falling and hurting her pelvis at church recently.

Makgatho, 52, dined with his father at least twice this week to discuss "family matters" despite the former President's busy schedule. "No matter where he goes in the world, he still makes time for family matters," he said.

Meanwhile, Mandela last night saw his 19-year-old grandson, Gadaffi, for the first time since the teenager was involved in a serious car accident last week.

Mandela-Hlongwane said yesterday afternoon that her son, who was on crutches, would put in a brief appearance at her father's party.

She said Mandela had been very concerned about Gadaffi after being informed of the accident last Friday. A tyre had burst near the Glenhove offramp on the M1 North and one of the four occupants had to be cut out of the car with the jaws of life. Gadaffi had been driving. All but one had been discharged from Milpark Hospital by yesterday.

In a further blow, AFP reported that Raymond Mhlaba, 83, one of the seven men sentenced with Mandela to life imprisonment in 1964, had suffered a stroke. He had been admitted to hospital on Thursday and was reportedly in a satisfactory condition. But he had to miss Madiba's party last night.

Mahlaba served as the first black premier of the Eastern Cape, but stepped down in 1997 for health reasons. He later acted as South African Ambassador to Rwanda and Burundi.

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