JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Nelson Mandela celebrates his 89th birthday Wednesday, launching a humanitarian campaign along with former President Jimmy Carter, ex-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other “elders” of the global village.
The initiative stems from an idea by British entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel to create a world council of elders to tackle issues such as conflict, AIDS and global warming.
“This group of international leaders will share how they intend to work together to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity in addressing some of the world’s toughest problems,” organizers said in a statement.
Branson and Gabriel, who founded an international human rights organization and championed the anti-apartheid cause, were expected to attend Wednesday’s event, part of a week of festivities for Mandela’s birthday.
A children’s party that has become an annual fixture wraps things up July 24. Before that, events will feature Bill Clinton and soccer legend Pele, who will play in a special star-studded match to honor Mandela.
A leading role
Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against apartheid. He was released in 1990 to lead negotiations to end decades of racist white rule and elected president in South Africa’s first free elections in 1994. He left office in 1999, but has continued to take a leading role in the fight against poverty, illiteracy and AIDS in Africa.
Clinton will open an exhibit on Thursday that focuses on the late Chief Albert Luthuli, an anti-apartheid campaigner who won the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize, and Mandela, who was given the honor in 1993.
Luthuli was the leader of the now-governing African National Congress when the group embarked on armed struggle against the racist apartheid regime. Mandela was the ANC’s leader three decades later as it negotiated a peace settlement with the nationalist government.
On Sunday, Annan will deliver the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture. The first in the series was given by Clinton on July 19, 2003. Others who have delivered lectures include 1994 Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kenyan environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki.
Charitable soccer game
Pele and soccer star Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon head a list of more than 50 players taking part in “90 Minutes for Mandela.”
The match, to be played on Wednesday in Cape Town, will pit Africa against the rest of the world. Proceeds are earmarked for social programs, including Mandela’s campaign against AIDS.
FIFA organized a similar all-star match in 1999 to honor Mandela when he stepped down as South African president.
Before the match, a ceremony will be held to honor a soccer league formed by political prisoners on Robben Island, where Mandela was incarcerated for 18 of the 27 years he spent in jail.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter will confer honorary FIFA membership on the Makana Football Association, which Mandela, separated from his comrades, used to watch playing from his cell window until prison authorities built a wall to further cut him off.
Makana, a local name for Robben Island, comes from a 19th century warrior leader of the Xhosa, the tribe to which Mandela belongs. The British banished Makana to Robben Island in 1819 and he died trying to escape.
Mandela has long recognized the importance of sports in helping to promote reconciliation. He appearing before a crowd of mostly white fans at the Rugby World Cup final in 1995 wearing a green and yellow South African team jersey, sending a powerful message to white South Africans that he was serious about racial reconciliation. Mandela also was instrumental in persuading FIFA to award South Africa the right to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup, a first for Africa.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.