SOWETO, South Africa -- In this sprawling Johannesburg suburb, a crowd lined up to write birthday greetings on a huge poster outside the modest house that Nelson Mandela once called home, part of a national outpouring for the anti-apartheid hero who turned 95 on Thursday.
Posters of Mandela, who celebrated his birthday in a Pretoria hospital, decorated nearly every lamp post in Soweto, which was a product of the rigid segregation policies of South Africa’s former white rulers. Traders did swift business selling shirts and paintings emblazoned with Mandela’s image to tourists.
Vilakazi Street is famous because two Nobel Laureates lived here in decades past: Mandela and former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
For some longtime residents, Mandela’s birthday was a chance to remember and give thanks.
“Thank you for being my father,” Nthabiseng Moloi, a 41-year-old unemployed mother of eight wrote on the poster.
She was drawn to Vilakazi Street, she said, because she wanted to feel Mandela’s spirit.
“Because it’s Mandela’s birthday, I just felt like coming here to remember him once more,” she said. “Just to feel his spirit in a traditional way.