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Thursday, July 16, 1998 Published at 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK

World: Africa

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela

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The whole of South Africa is caught up in the start of your 80th birthday celebrations this week, which we're told 'will go on all year,' and I wanted to add warm congratulations from the BBC bureau here in Johannesburg. We will be celebrating too.

A selection of BBC reports spanning 50 years
You will feel your presidency has gone at the speed of light, I imagine: after 27 years in prison you have spent only four running the country, and next year you are not standing in the national elections. Your deputy, Thabo Mbeki, is 99.9% certain to take over - an effective performer, but your charisma and moral stature make you one of the great figures of the century. I wonder if he will watch the festivities this week and wonder how on earth he can compete.

Your achievements are immense. Your release from jail in 1990 could have set off a race war here, but you preached reconciliation instead. I will never forget the photograph of you having afternoon tea with the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, a man who, when he was President, did everything he could to shore up the hated apartheid system which kept you in prison. Has Mrs Verwoerd sent you a card? Somehow I feel she must have done.

Having watched you make speeches in the last few months, I know that you are well aware of the problems that remain unsolved here. Astonishing levels of black poverty; a lack of white cooperation with your policies; and recent fighting in KwaZulu Natal, to name a few.

But the point is that because millions around the world adore you, South Africa's transformation has received global attention and support. How will you fit eighty candles on a cake? Leave that to one of your finance ministers. On your 80th birthday, just enjoy the river of goodwill that is flowing towards you. And when you see the BBC camera, please give us one of your glittering smiles.

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BBC Africa correspondent

To add your greetings to President Mandela click here They will be published on Monday. Please add your name and country.

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