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Happy 93rd birthday, Nelson Mandela!

July 18, 2011 |  1:11 pm


Nelson Mandela has been celebrating his 93rd birthday Monday in South Africa with his family. Late last year, the former South African president and prisoner of conscience released a memoir, "Conversations With Myself," which will be published in paperback in September.

In South Africa, Mandela and his family aren't the only people celebrating. Since 2009, July 18 has officially been "Nelson Mandela Day," during which the nation "tries a little kindness -- 67 minutes' worth," reports Robyn Dixon, "in honor of the 67 years that Mandela worked for equality in the African nation." Of course, when Mandela started in politics, in 1942, South Africa was still dominated by racial segregation; its apartheid regime, introduced in 1948, was not dismantled until 1994.

During that time, Mandela spent 27 years in prison, much of it on the notorious Robben Island. Notes that Mandela wrote during his imprisonment -- journals, draft letters, diaries and other notes -- make up much of "Conversations with Myself." The book also includes documents from Mandela's five years as president. "Made up of hundreds of disconnected chunks of text, some as brief as a line or two, it is a grab bag of a book, a festschrift of disconnected notes," wrote David L. Ulin, who concluded that the book was only "at-times fascinating." Ulin continued:

And yet, there is, as always, something profound and illuminating about Mandela, even in these attenuated bits and pieces, these fragments of a life. As he writes in a 1975 letter to his then-wife, Winnie: "Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others -- qualities which are within easy reach of every soul -- are the foundation of one’s spiritual life. Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes."

Nelson Mandela's advanced age has led to recent health scares. "When he caught a cold this year, members of the media by the hundreds camped outside his hospital and home for weeks," Dixon reports. But Monday he must be in good spirits -- in the morning, millions of schoolchildren sang to him, as "Tata," or Grandpa: "We love you, Tata. We love you, Tata. We love you, dear Tata. Happy birthday to you."


Nelson Mandela's long, long trip

Mandela and Google at the Frankfurt Book Fair

The mundane and the moral: Mandela's "Conversations with Myself"

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Nelson Mandela in 1994. Credit: Los Angeles Times