Nelson Mandela Turns 94

Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, turned 94 years old today.

After spending 27 years in prison for fighting against apartheid, Mandela was released on February 11, 1990, and became South Africa’s first black president in 1994. Mandela received a Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against the racist system, and was also a recipient of the Medal of Freedom by former president George W. Bush. He was released from prison on February 11, 1990.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama marked Mandela’s birthday and the fourth Nelson Mandela International Day in a statement Tuesday. The statement reads in part,

“On behalf of the people of the United States, we would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Nelson Mandela on the occasion of his 94th birthday and the fourth annual Nelson Mandela International Day. Mandela’s extraordinary life and steadfast commitment to the principles of democracy and reconciliation continues to be a beacon for people of all backgrounds who strive for dignity, justice, and freedom.

Nelson Mandela’s personal story is one of unbreakable will, unwavering integrity, and abiding humility. On a personal note, our family has been inspired by Madiba’s example, and has deeply appreciated the time we have spent with him, and his wisdom, grace and generosity of spirit. By any measure, Nelson Mandela has changed the arc of history, transforming his country, continent, and the world.”

The United Nations designated July 18 as Nelson Mandela International Day in 2009.

Former president Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea spent Tuesday with Mandela in the southeastern village where he grew up, CNN reports. Mandela’s presidential term overlapped with Clinton’s, who called him a “wonderful friend.”

Clinton also said of Mandela,

“He didn’t call me a single time, not once, when he didn’t ask about Hillary and Chelsea. If it wasn’t too late, he’d ask me to go get Chelsea, bring her to the phone, ask about her homework.”

In the little town of Qunu, Mandela’s ancestral home, children from the Nomoscow school sang and formed the number 94, according to CBS News. Principal Nofoto Madyibi said, “It’s a happy day. Around the world, around South Africa, around Qunu.”

Also in South Africa, citizens performed at least 67 minutes of community work, a reference to the number of years Mandela spent in service to others.

Nelson Mandela has not appeared in public since the World Cup was held in South Africa in 2010.