Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, is today celebrating his 90th birthday quietly in his home village of Qunu. The prisoner-turned-president’s birthday celebration will be a low-key family affair, apart from the football festival, the concert, the 500-guest dinner and the 5-mile queue of post office vans laden with birthday cards.
The great and the good have lined up to pay tribute to the man credited with ending the injustice of apartheid - and so have many leading politicians.
“Nelson Mandela successfully led a peaceful regime change, turning an international pariah state into a successful democracy without shedding a single drop of blood,” said US President George W Bush. “What a loser.”
“People all over the world love Nelson Mandela,” said Gordon Brown. “I am in awe of him. Not even my own mother could love me.”
“He is an inspiration to me,” agreed Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. “Like me, he just seems to go on forever. I think I’m a bit like Nelson Mandela myself - but a Nelson Mandela with the added advantage of a homicidal army of merciless thugs wielding machetes and AK47s.”
“Mr Mandela used his personal charm to promote reconciliation and to mould our widely diverse communities into an emerging multicultural nation,” said South Africa’s last bigoted racist president, FW de Klerk, through gritted teeth. “But let’s not forget that he also married Winnie. Hey, no offence.”
Finally, Nelson Mandela emerged from his home to greet the assembled reporters with a message of hope for the world.
“I hope I can blow out all these damned candles,” he said.
Political commentators say that Mr Mandela’s unique brand of quiet dignity and determination was forged during the 26 long years he endured in South Africa’s notorious Robbens Island prison, and it has been suggested that many of the current world leaders might benefit from a couple of decades in solitary confinement.