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Birthday wishes pour in for Mandela
Former South African president Nelson Mandela turns 90 on Friday amid an avalanche of birthday wishes for the world's best-loved statesman.

Former South African president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela turns 90 on Friday amid an avalanche of birthday wishes for the world's best-loved statesman.

While nearly a decade has passed since Mandela stood down after a single term as head of state, his reputation has, if anything, been enhanced over time even as he scales back his public appearances.

Although he now only walks with the aid of a stick, the man referred to by most South Africans by his clan name Madiba still retains the warmth, dignity and self-deprecating sense of humour that won over even die-hard supporters of the whites-only regime after his release from 27 years in captivity in 1990.

As he addressed the audience that turned up last Saturday to hear Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf deliver the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture, Mandela thanked them for "honouring an old man with your presence".

"And if a 90-year-old may offer some unsolicited advice on this occasion, it would be that you, irrespective of your age, should place human solidarity, the concern for the other, at the centre of the values by which you live," he said.

Johnson-Sirleaf, the continent's first female head of state, in turn hailed Mandela for serving as "an inspiration to Africa and the world".

Mandela's appearance at the lecture was one of several he has made in the weeks building up to his birthday, including a trip to London where he addressed the crowds attending an HIV/Aids benefit concert.

He also demonstrated his commitment to his other most cherished cause, the plight of children, by throwing a party for hundreds of children in Johannesburg last week.

Friday's celebrations however will be a private affair, with Mandela and his third wife Graça Machel also marking the 10th anniversary of their wedding with friends and family in his childhood homestead of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

"For his actual birthday, it is a private celebration. He is going to be in the Transkei celebrating with families and friends," said Sahm Venter, a spokesperson for Mandela's foundation.

Ahead of his birthday, hundreds of thousands of well-wishers have been paying their respects on websites.

Former United States president Bill Clinton, who received a special message of support from Mandela at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, said "no celebration or card can be big enough to encompass all the lives you have touched".

But not everyone has been caught up in the feel good mood, including one of his oldest supporters, the jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela.

"I have been saying 'Happy Birthday' to Mandela for over 30 years and, quite frankly, I'm tired," Masekela, whose song Bring Him Back Home was one of the anthems of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, told the Times newspaper. - AFP