Nelson Mandela turns 94, South Africa celebrates

Last Updated Jul 18, 2012 8:08 PM EDT

(CBS News) QUNU, SOUTH AFRICA - People across South Africa are marking Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday today with celebrations.

At the Nomoscow school, about a mile down the hill from the Mandela home, students sang and stood in line forming the number 94.

"It's a happy day," said principal Nofoto Madyibi. "Around the world, around South Africa, around Qunu."

It may be International Mandela Day, but in Qunu - it's a local event. The little town is the ancestral home for the anti-apartheid icon and they have an understandable connection to the man who has come back to spend the end of his life in the place he grew up.

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But the idea is for virtually every school in the country to sing out greetings to Mandela, the man they call Madiba, his affectionate and respectful tribal name.

The idea is also for people to do 67 minutes of community work, a minute for each year Mandela devoted to public service. School kids went into the village to read to residents of this economically depressed region. Conveniently, today's reading was from a book about Mandela

It's a theme repeated all over the country: a new generation learning the Mandela story. The story of their past that also, thanks to him, is the story about the promise of their future.

The reverence for Nelson Mandela, of course, goes beyond South Africa. Many world leaders including President Obama, sent good wishes and one former leader, Bill Clinton, came in person.

Mandela himself isn't seen in public anymore, he's confined to his house where he receives guests.

"I don't think he wanted to be a hero," Clinton said. "I think he wanted to lead his country into freedom and unity. And it was heroic, and when the price turned to very high, he just kept paying it.

Now people are trying to pay it back. Giving their time in a small way, the way he gave so much of his.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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