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Mandela Marks His 83rd Birthday

July 18, 2001

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Former President Nelson Mandela smiled jovially and pretended to be surprised to find schoolchildren singing a happy birthday song on his doorstep Wednesday morning.

The musical tribute, documented by several journalists, was Mandela’s only scheduled public appearance on his 83rd birthday.

``Happy birthday, Mr. Mandela, may all your dreams come true, may your days be filled with sunshine, happy birthday to you,″ about two dozen children from a primary school near Mandela’s office sang.

``I’m so happy to see you,″ Mandela told the children and asked if he could shake their hands ``because it would make my day.″

Each of the children then shook hands with Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, Mozambique’s former first lady. The birthday also marks their third wedding anniversary.

Most children were too shy to speak or even look at the man who led his country out of apartheid, won a Nobel Peace Prize and remains the most revered person in South Africa.

But Mikha Sack, 11, sang happy birthday to Mandela in Spanish, her mother’s language.

Mandela said he would spend his birthday quietly with his family, ``thinking of all the nice things that have happened.″

Even at 83, Mandela’s schedule remains hectic, with several meetings and public appearances scheduled most days. As the chief mediator in talks aiming to solve the Burundi conflict, Mandela often travels across Africa meeting with officials.

He also raises money for schools and clinics, and often appears at the openings of donated schools. This week, he opened a school Monday, opened a bridge project Tuesday and plans to speak at two conferences Thursday. On Friday, he has several meetings scheduled, and his plans for Saturday include attending a children’s birthday party at a Soweto hospital.

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