Sweet Reflections On Grandpa For Mandela Birthday

People around the world are marking 'Mandela Day' by doing 67 minutes of public service — that's one minute for every year he spent fighting for human rights. Host Michel Martin speaks to Mandela's granddaughter Tukwini Mandela to find out how the South African elder statesman is celebrating his 94th birthday.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we head to South Africa, where the country is celebrating a very special day.

(SOUNDBITE SONG, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: That was this morning and those were students in Johannesburg singing "Happy Birthday" to former President Nelson Mandela. He turns 94 today. Three years ago, the United Nations declared his birthday Mandela Day, so as he blows out his candles, people from Cape Town to California are being asked to volunteer 67 minutes of their time as community service in recognition of the 67 years he spent fighting for human rights.

But we wanted to hear how the man himself is doing, so we've called Tukwini Mandela. She is Nelson Mandela's granddaughter, one of his granddaughters, we should say. She is with him at his home in Qunu and she joins us now.

Welcome. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us on this special day.

TUKWINI MANDELA: It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: How are the celebrations proceeding? Is there a cake, ice cream, balloons?

MANDELA: Well, there are a couple of cakes. The last time I looked, I think I saw three.

MARTIN: What's his favorite?

MANDELA: Well, he doesn't really eat cake. I mean, he really likes ice cream, but he doesn't - you know, he's not one for sweet things. He's very disciplined when it comes to those things.

MARTIN: Well, at least, will he have a bowl of ice cream or two?

MANDELA: Yes. He probably will. He probably will.

MARTIN: How is he doing, overall? Is he enjoying this stage of his life?

MANDELA: Oh, definitely. I mean, he has time to rest now and enjoy his family and enjoy his grandchildren. I think he appreciates the time that he gets to spend in his home where he grew up, essentially, and where most of his family is, you know, the people that he grew up with. So he really, really enjoys his time here.

MARTIN: I think one can understand, particularly if you remember how many years he spent separated from family, you know, in prison...

MANDELA: Yes.

MARTIN: ...as a result of his...

MANDELA: Yes.

MARTIN: ...activism. You know, as we mentioned, there was this call for everyone to do 67 minutes of public service. I'll just play a short clip from Asma Ismail. She's the acting deputy head of Franklin D. Roosevelt Primary School in Johannesburg. She's just talking about her plans for her students for this day.

ASMA ISMAIL: As a school, our pledge today is 67 minutes of dignity and respect and, most important, gratitude for being here today. My 67 minutes this afternoon is going to be spent at an old age home across the road from my house and I'm doing 67 minutes spending just quality time with people who need that.

MARTIN: Do you happen to know if your grandfather is aware of this 67 minutes movement? And what does he make of it?

MANDELA: Oh, he's definitely aware and I think, you know, it's something that he appreciates and encourages. You know, my grandfather has always believed strongly that we should all give back to the communities that gave so much for us and all the South Africans died, you know, so that we could have the privileges that we have today. So it's our responsibility to ensure that we give back and we make sure that, you know, the communities that are struggling and don't have much, you know - we help them to rebuild their community.

So he appreciates those things very much and my grandfather is - you know, that's something that he's done consistently throughout his life. So, you know, those are things that he really takes to heart. Those are things that he finds really, really important.

MARTIN: Well, what about you? And I understand that you're not interested in politics. In fact, you're in the wine business, but are you...

MANDELA: Yeah. No. I mean, I'm not interested in politics whatsoever. You know - and, you know, I fell into the wine business by chance. It's not something that I actually sought to do. A very interesting project was brought to my family. We thought about it. We went and researched it and, actually, the way that the wine grows is very similar to our family story and that's why we decided to be involved in wine.

MARTIN: What about you and your siblings and other family members? Apart from celebrating with your grandfather, will you do something special in service today, as well?

MANDELA: A lot of us have done different things throughout the day. We went to a clinic just down the road from us, but it needs a lot of resources, so we got two companies to donate those resources today. You know, we had a chance to paint the clinic and my other cousins did things in schools. Other cousins delivered speeches. So we all contribute in our small way any way that we can, schedules allowing, of course, because we're all very busy people. But, you know, we try our utmost to do our best, you know, to do our part for 67 minutes.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask? A special pressure, though - as family members, do you feel you must, in some way, set some special example or do you try to resist that kind of thinking?

MANDELA: Well, look, I mean, the pressure will always be with us. That's something that we've accepted in our lives, but I think that what we try and do is live our lives the best way possible. We're a family of varied interests, so we try and contribute in our own small way through the things that we feel passionate about. So, you know, the pressure to be, you know - and to join politics will always be there, but I think that we all have very strong personalities and we all are very keen about what we want to accomplish in our lives.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, you mentioned that your grandfather isn't especially fond of cake, but we assume that he will be blowing out some candles. So can you give us any hint about what special birthday wish he might be making when he blows out those candles?

MANDELA: I think his birthday wish is to have a quiet retirement, you know, to enjoy, you know, his time with his family. He didn't get to do that a lot when he was in prison, number one, but when he became president, you know, the pressures of the job demanded that he pay his due in his service to his own country. But, now that he's retired from politics, he wants to spend most of his time with his family and the people that he loves.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for taking some time from the celebrations to visit with us.

MANDELA: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: And will you convey our birthday wishes to him?

MANDELA: I will most definitely do so.

MARTIN: Tukwini Mandela is Nelson Mandela's granddaughter. She's also co-owner of the House of Mandela wine label in South Africa. That, along with her mother, Makaziwe, who is Nelson Mandela's daughter. She was kind enough to join us on the line from the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

Thank you so much for speaking with us, once again, and our very special birthday wishes from all of us here at TELL ME MORE and NPR.

MANDELA: Thank you very much.

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