Johannesburg, July 19 : Former South African President Nelson Mandela used the occasion of his 90th birthday on Friday to call for renewed action against poverty.
"Poverty has gripped our people. If you are poor, you are not likely to live long," Mandela said in a message from his home village of Qunu, where he is celebrating his birthday weekend with family and friends.
Surrounded by some of his grandchildren, a smiling Mandela, wearing one of his trademark African patterned shirts, posed for photographs in the lounge of the sprawling bungalow he built on his release from prison among the rolling hills of his homeland.
"There are many people in South Africa who are rich, and who can share those riches with those not so fortunate, who have not been able to conquer poverty," said Mandela, who came to power in 1994 promising a "better life for all".
When Mandela was asked whether he wished he had spent more time with his family, a foreign news agency quoted him as saying: "I am sure for many people that is their wish. I also have that wish that I spent more time (with family). But I don't regret it."
Qunuwas abuzz on Friday with preparations for the main birthday bash on Saturday for about 500 friends and family.
Friday also marked the 10th anniversary of Mandela's marriage to Grecka Machel, a social activist and widow of former Mozambican president Samora Machel.
President Thabo Mbeki said South Africans basked in the reflected glory of Mandela "and other giants" of the anti-apartheid struggle but should also consider the mission facing theirs and future generations.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso described Mandela as a source of inspiration for generations of Africans and world citizens.
"His life illustrates the power of the will, of courage, the power of freedom and also the force of reconciliation," Barroso said.
Prisoners at the Drakenstein Correctional Centre, formerly known as the Victor Verster Prison, from which he emerged a free man on February 11, 1990, organized a party and sang songs in his honour.