QUNU, South Africa – Nelson Mandela celebrated his 90th birthday Friday by calling on the wealthy to share with the poor and wishing that he had been able to spend more time with his family during the long anti-apartheid struggle.
In an interview at his home in rural southeastern South Africa, the icon was asked if he had a message for the world.
"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.
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Sitting with his wife Graca Machel in a lounge of the large home he built in Qunu, Mandela said he was fortunate to have reached 90, but the poor are unlikely to live that long because "poverty has gripped our people."
At one point, a granddaughter brought a bowl of flowers into the room and gave Mandela a birthday kiss. He was asked if he wished he had had more time with his family during a life spent fighting apartheid and then leading South Africa.
"I am sure for many people that is their wish," he said. "I also have that wish that I spent more time (with my family). But I don't regret it."
Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against apartheid.
He was released in 1990 to lead negotiations that ended decades of racist white rule. He was elected president in South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994.
After serving one five-year term, he devoted himself to campaigning against poverty, illiteracy and AIDS in Africa.
In recent years, Mandela has been slowed by age, cutting back on public appearances and spending more time with his family. He often spends holidays and his birthdays in Qunu.
Wearing one of his signature patterned shirts, this one in shades of green, gold and black, Mandela glanced pensively out a window at the start of the interview. "This is my property. When I am here, I feel I own something," he said.
After the interview, a group of seven or eight grandchildren crowded around him, sang "Happy Birthday" and kissed him. His legs, covered with a pale yellow blanket, were propped up on a large stool. A pile of newspapers sat next to him.
The room was full of birthday presents from all over the world — a portrait, a bust, a collection of photography books from well-known artists.
While Mandela celebrated quietly in Qunu, there were events across the country to honor him.
Two runners holding South African flags circled Robben Island, where Mandela spent most of his 27 years in jail.
At nearby Drakenstein prison, known as Victor Verster when Mandela was held their briefly at the end of his term, a prisoners' choir and a band performed for a live broadcast on state television.
Prisoners who had created portraits of Mandela handed them over to Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour, who was to pass them on to Mandela. "He gave a lot back to the country, he united us," prisons spokesman Mark Solomons said.
In Johannesburg, children celebrated with birthday cake at the offices of the foundation Mandela founded after stepping down as president in 1999. His African National Congress hung giant banners with his image at its headquarters.
Qunu, meanwhile, had spruced up for the day. Thursday, gardeners mowed the lawn leading up to the museum honoring Mandela, a crew added a new layer to the road outside his house and a school choir rehearsed a song they created for him.
Mandela helped raise funds so the school could build new classrooms and move out of a dilapidated mud structure.
"He has done a lot for us, specially for the school," said school principal Mpondomise Ndzambo. "He suffered a lot trying to get this South Africa to be free and fair. I think he is a great man."