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Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela at 95!

PRETORIA – Former South African President, apartheid activist, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a heroic human rights defender, Nelson Mandela, turns 95 years old today while recovering steadily from a lung infection that has kept him hospitalized since June 8th. To mark his birthday he is being commemorated in a number of events around the globe, including an urge in South Africa for everyone to spend 67 minutes doing charitable work, reflecting Mandela's remarkable 67 years in public office.

In the following, Cinema for Peace Founder and Chairman Jaka Bizilj remembers the inspiration Mandela has given to our network:
"I was living as a child in Arusha in Tanzania, somewhere between Kilimanjaro and Serengeti. In our house we had a Nanny named Mary. In the garden and the kitchen there was always our chef Justin, he managed to create a great meal every day, while my parents were working – my mother in a hospital, and my father as an engineer to build streets. I was nine years old, and one day I tried to give Mary a command. When she asked me why I thought she should follow my instructions, I said something like,  “Because you are black.“  I don't remember if it was Mary or my mother or both of them who spanked me for the first time in my life, but I learned immediately and painfully that you don't play with such provocations. I did not know anything about Apartheid, as there was no obvious segregation in East Africa – I was the only white boy in my class and there was no separation between black and white, the color of skin didn't matter. As a small boy I could not  imagine how different things were in other parts of Africa, especially in South Africa.

Later I became fascinated with movies such as CRY FREEDOM and campaigns by many artists to free Mandela.  Astonishingly, in the eighties, Mandela was regarded by many foreign dignitaries as a terrorist, including US President Ronald Reagan. When the German Vice-Chancellor Genscher pleaded for Mandela’s release at the UN General Assembly in New York, Genscher endangered his political coalition at home, considering that leading German politicians like Fran Josef Strauss spoke of Mandela as a "criminal". Even Amnesty International took decades to recognize the great man fully as a political prisoner and a prisoner of conscience .  I had the privilege to visit Mandela in 2006 together with Artists for Amnesty, when they finally  honored him as a “prisoner of conscience,“ recognizing his achievements and coming to terms with the fact that Mandela was forced to use arms and dynamite as a young man.

I met again Nelson Mandela at his birthday celebration in Monte Carlo in 2007, and it was a very special experience. My seat among the 350 guests was next to Adnan Kashoggi, the world's most infamous arms dealer. As the founder of Cinema for Peace, I checked the room for any other free seats and was lucky that Bono, of the world famous U2 band, recognized me from the G8-campaign that I had done the very same year with his friend, Bob Geldof.  Bono invited me to his table with Paul Allen, Naomi Campbell, the Queen of Jordan as well as other great people.  But despite the many celebrities in attendance, everyone focused their attention fully on “Madiba“. At the time, he was already very fragile. Therefore his family and foundation had prepared a video with his speech, but then something unexpected happened: when Wyclef Jean, Bono and other musicians took the stage for a performance, the fragile man jumped from his seat; he danced with a wonderful smile on his face and took over the stage! Before there had been discussions of meeting him at his bed, and now he was taking center stage – in the limelight at 89 years of age, moving his hips, laughing and dancing. A miraculous age for somebody that had overcome decades of cruel conditions in jail, comparable to somebody  older than 100 years.  

In 2007 I produced SUDDENLY GINA, a feature film, with the legendary Richard Curtis , creator of Comic Relief, Idol Gives back, MR. BEAN and of successful films ranging from FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL to NOTTING HILL to LOVE ACTUALLY and THE GIRL IN THE CAFÉ – the latter of which served as the premise for our film. SUDDENLY GINA is a film about the fight against poverty and was screened primetime to millions of  people before the G8 summit and supported the campaign "Make Poverty History". We gave 150,000 USD from the movie’s profits to the Nelson Mandela Foundation for their joint venture project with UNICEFs “Schools for Africa“.  We have been told that for every 10,000 USD a school would be built. Richard Curtis Comic Relief and Idol Gives back raised more than $1 billion dollars towards the fight against poverty, proving the power of arts and artists.

“Education is the key“, is Nelson Mandela’s  credo. In order to further celebrate this mission, we developed in association with the United Nations a "Sports for Peace"-Gala on the occasion of the 2010 World Cup in order to promote the Millennium Development Goal No. 2 – to bring every child to school by 2015. The year before, I had visited Robben Island, and in Johannesburg Constitution Hill,  the seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and as well as the prison where Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela had been incarcerated  This was the place we chose for the Gala, and Nelson Mandela served as our Honorary Chair that summer. This former prison and our occasion were the place where the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon was welcomed to the World Cup by President Zuma and both announced further efforts to achieve MDG. No.2, with further contributions by Graca Machel and football legends such as Franz Beckenbauer. 

Today we keep supporting education and the fight against AIDS with our Cinema for Peace Foundation through screenings in South Africa. In 2010, a few weeks after the Gala in Johannesburg, we hosted our premiere of the wonderful film THEMBA with Bishop Tutu, who arrived in a "Bafana, Bafana"- jersey, which made the kids go wild, and Hellen Zille, the Governor and former journalist who exposed the Steve Biko story to the world, which Richard Attenborough then made into the film CRY FREEDOM. After one of our screenings, a girl said: "...I am sorry I couldn’t see this movie earlier with my mother as she might have had the courage to admit that she had AIDS...and my mother might still be alive...“ We raised funds for these screenings later that year in New York with the help of the great Anti-AIDS campaigner Sharon Stone, and we are still showing THEMBA today in rural areas in order to inform the youth from the dangers of HIV/AIDS. This year we raised approximately 800,000 USD for the similarly important work of Charlize Theron’s AIDS programs in South-Africa.

Please help us to keep Nelson Mandela’s legacy alive and support his visions:
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Nelson Mandela
Invictus by William Ernest Henley
A poem that inspired Nelson Mandela in the face of great adversities

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


We invite you to watch the following trailers on the topic of Nelson Mandela and Apartheid:
  • INVICTUS by Clint Eastwood tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela joined forces with the captain of South Africa's rugby team to help unite their country. Newly elected President Mandela knows his nation remains racially and economically divided in the wake of apartheid.
  • GOOD BYE BAFANA by Bille August  is the true story of a white South African racist whose life was profoundly altered by the black prisoner he guarded for twenty years. The prisoner's name was Nelson Mandela.
  • CRY FREEDOM by Richard Attenborough recounts how South African journalist Donald Woods is forced to flee the country after attempting to investigate the death in custody of his friend the black activist Steve Biko.
  • SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN by Malik Bendjelloul presents how two South Africans set out to discover what happened to their unlikely musical hero, the mysterious 1970s rock 'n' roller, Rodriguez.
  • NELSON MANDELA'S SPEECH at Free South Africa in Wembley, 1990
  • The Song FREE NELSON MANDELA at Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday