Happy birthday! Madiba turns 87

Tributes poured in for South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela who turned 87 on Monday, but his birthday celebrations were clouded by an ugly legal spat over the sale of fake artwork bearing his name.

The elderly statesman is spending a quiet day with family in Qunu, his rural village in the Eastern Cape, while in Cape Town his birthday kicked off early on Monday on Robben Island with a torch relay and a spectacular fireworks display.

Birthday wishes from all over South Africa were streaming in with the Johannesburg-based newspaper ‘The Star’ running a front-page article under the banner: “Happy Birthday, Madiba” as he is affectionately called by his Xhosa clan name.

“Madiba continues to be a source of inspiration and leadership to the ANC, as he continues to provide guidance and hope to millions across South Africa, across the continent and across the world,” the ruling African National Congress said.

“The ANC wishes Madiba a happy birthday and a joyous year ahead,” it said in a statement issued in Johannesburg.

South African celebrities sent birthday wishes ranging from hopes for a new pair of slippers, another 30 years of life, to an island in the Bahamas “so that he [Mandela] can have a place to relax”.

On Robben Island, a torch was lit shortly after midnight (10pm GMT) on Sunday night in Mandela’s former prison cell, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in an apartheid jail before Cape Town was lit up by a spectacular fireworks display.

The torch will be carried by runners throughout South Africa and will arrive in Johannesburg next Saturday ahead of the country’s Mandela trophy rugby clash against Australia.

In Mandela’s small home village of Qunu, about 35km from the town of Mthatha, in southeastern South Africa, police were turning well-wishers away who had arrived at the homestead’s gates.

“He will spend private time with his family. It’s just him and his family, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said Mandela Foundation spokesperson Connie Motshumi.

“It is indeed a family thing and we would like everybody to respect that,” she said.

This did not deter those at the gates of his large Tuscan home hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite South African.

“We decided to miss the opening of school today so that we can be here, we wanted just to sing for him,” said Asisipho Khowana (13).

But this year the anti-apartheid hero’s birthday is being clouded by an ugly legal spat over the sale of fake artwork bearing his signature.

Mandela and his former lawyer Ismail Ayob are embroiled in a bitter legal battle over the use of the former president’s name for commercial reasons.

The retired president wants the court to stop Ayob and businessman Ross Calder from marketing, selling and distributing artworks bearing his name.

In return, Ayob has filed papers before court, effectively accusing the universally revered Mandela, whom Ayob has represented as a lawyer since 1974, as a money-grabbing old man who would do anything to make money for himself and his family.

Despite calls to settle, the dispute seems to be headed for the courts. - Sapa-AFP

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