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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Guess who is turning 90 years old today? Here's a clue.

Unidentified Children: (Singing) Happy birthday, Nelson Mandela, happy birthday to you.

INSKEEP: Some kids singing happy birthday to Nelson Mandela, elder statesman, Nobel Prize winner and South Africa's first democratically elected leader. Here's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Nelson Mandela and many others spent decades in prison. They dedicated their lives to the anti-apartheid struggle and fought for liberation and equality in a free, democratic and non-racial South Africa.

The first time many heard Mandela's voice was in court in the 1960s. He was on trial, charged with treason. In this crackly vintage recording, Mandela defended his actions to end white minority rule.

Mr. NELSON MANDELA: It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

QUIST-ARCTON: Nelson Mandela was found guilty in 1964 and began serving, arguably, the most celebrated life sentence in history.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People (Singers): (Singing) Free, free, free Nelson Mandela.

QUIST-ARCTON: Twenty-seven years later, on February 11, 1990, Mandela was a free man, released from jail. In 1994, he was elected South Africa's first black president, heading a multiracial government.

Mr. MANDELA: I, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, do hereby swear to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, so help me God.

QUIST-ARCTON: Praise singers, presidents, and paupers celebrated the inauguration of Nelson Mandela. After five years as president, he handed over the reins of power, but Mandela kept working. At the grand old age of 86, after dedicating himself to children, education and a new struggle, the fight against HIV/AIDS, he had this message for South Africans and the world.

Mr. MANDELA: When I told one of my advisers a few months ago that I wanted to retire, he growled at me: Coach(ph), you are retired. If that is really the case, then I should say I now announce that I'm retiring from retirement. The appeal, therefore, is don't call me, I'll call you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

QUIST-ARCTON: On his 90th birthday, a look back at the life of Nelson Mandela, fondly known by his clan name, Madiba. He has always said that what he missed most during his many years in jail was the sound of children's voices.

Unidentified Child: Happy 90th Birthday. (Speaking foreign language).

QUIST-ARCTON: They remember him today. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Johannesburg.

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