MVEZO, South Africa (AP) — A couple of decades ago, Nelson Mandela grew withdrawn while feasting with his family on Christmas Day in the part of rural South Africa where the anti-apartheid leader lived as a child. Alarmed by the patriarch’s silence, some relatives looked at him and asked if anything was wrong.
“‘I’m just wondering what the rest of the community is doing while we’re having a huge meal,'” Mandela said at the time, according to his grandson, Mandla.
Family members immediately canvassed the neighborhood for children to join their party, rounding up a merry band of 60, and so began an annual tradition that ballooned in popularity. A scaled down version was held Tuesday in Mvezo, Mandela’s birthplace, drawing hundreds of local children to a celebration whose 94-year-old founder could not attend because he is in hospital care.
President Jacob Zuma, meanwhile, joined Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, and other family members to wish a Merry Christmas to Mandela at his hospital bedside in Pretoria, the South African capital.
“We found him in good spirits,” Zuma said in a statement. “He shouted my clan name, Nxamalala, as I walked into the ward! He was happy to have visitors on this special day and is looking much better. The doctors are happy with the progress that he is making.”
Mandela was admitted Dec. 8 to a hospital. He was diagnosed with a lung infection and also had a procedure to remove gallstones. Officials have previously said Mandela was improving, but doctors are taking extraordinary care because he is very old.
In Mvezo, it was a rainy day, but the 800 children attending the Mandela party were happy to sweep up sunglasses, dolls, toy cars, blankets and other gifts. They cavorted and whooped under a big tent. Loud music livened the moment. One little girl, however, didn’t get her wish.
“I wish to see Tata Mandela back home to have Christmas with us,” said four-year-old Babalwa Booi. “Tata” means father in South Africa’s Xhosa language.
“This is a special day to us mainly because of the lessons drawn from my grandfather,” said Mandla Mandela, a tribal chief in the Mvezo area of Eastern Cape province.
The genesis of the homegrown Christmas party is one more entry in the voluminous lore about Mandela’s generosity and openness of spirit, which he even extended at times to the jailers who imprisoned him for 27 years under apartheid.
The system of white minority rule was eventually dismantled, opening the way to South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. Mandela, a Nobel laureate, served one five-year term as president before retiring and in recent years he has lived near Mvezo in Qunu, a village where he recalled happy moments as a child.
Mandela himself was uneasy with the idea of being an icon, and as president, he failed to craft a lasting formula for overcoming South Africa’s biggest, post-apartheid problems, poverty and economic inequality. While he was active, he did not escape criticism as an individual and a politician, but he is globally respected as a symbol of decency and principle.
Mandla Mandela, the grandson, remembered how the Christmas party that followed the first impromptu one in the 1990s was swamped by more than 1,000 children, three times as many as were expected. By 2001, nearly 10,000 were showing up. At some point, the chief said, American television personality Oprah Winfrey got involved and there was sponsorship.
“The numbers grew phenomenally,” he said, with tens of thousands of children in attendance.
The Christmas parties were originally held in Qunu. The 2005 edition was cancelled when Mandla Mandela’s father died. The tradition was revived in 2007 in Mvezo.
Nelson Mandela “has always said every society will be judged by the manner it treats its children,” his grandson said.
“We were, on our part, wishing to spend this time with him, Christmas being a family day,” his grandson said. “But we do not want to exert pressure on the doctors because they know what he needs to get well.”
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
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2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
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3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
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4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
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5. Jus haaaanngin out
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6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
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7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
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8. new new
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9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
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10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
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11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
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13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
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14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
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15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
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16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
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17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
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18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
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19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
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20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
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22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
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23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
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24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
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25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
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26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
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27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
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28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
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29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
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30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
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