Nelson Mandela called 'icon of all international icons' on 95th birthday

As the world marks the 95th birthday of Nelson Mandela, one former British MP calls the former South African president a "colossus in the world." Speaking to the CBC's Susan Ormiston, former anti-apartheid activist and current Labour Party member Peter Hain describes the qualities that make Mandela such an historic figure.

British politician and former anti-apartheid activist Peter Hain reflects on Mandela's legacy

CBC correspondent Susan Ormiston talks with British MP Peter Hain on the legacy of Nelson Mandela 3:09

As the world marks Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday, one former British MP calls the former South African president a "colossus in the world." 

Born in South Africa and raised in the U.K., Peter Hain was an anti-apartheid activist during the 1960s, and famously spearheaded efforts to stop all-white South African rugby teams from touring in 1969 and 1970. 

In an interview with the CBC's Susan Ormiston, Hain reflects on the qualities that make Mandela such an historic figure. After spending 27 years in jail as a political prisoner, Mandela "came out, not wanting revenge, but seeking reconciliation and preaching healing of a bitterly divided country," says Hain.

Without Mandela, says Hain, South Africa "would have toppled into civil war."

He adds that Mandela is, "an icon – in my view, the icon of all international icons, who crosses boundaries, because he combines this extraordinary backstory of courage, of leadership, of fortitude." [Watch the Peter Hain interview in the player at the top of this page.]

The United Nations has declared the day Nelson Mandela International Day as a way of recognizing the Nobel Peace Prize winner's contribution to reconciliation.

Mandela, also known by his clan name Madiba, was jailed for 27 years under white minority rule and led a difficult transition from apartheid to democracy, becoming president in all-race elections in 1994.

Mandela was taken to a hospital on June 8 for treatment for a recurring lung infection. In previous announcements, the government said he was in critical but stable condition. Court documents filed by Mandela's family earlier this month had said Mandela was on life support and near death.

South African  president Jacob Zuma released a statement thanking South Africans for supporting Mandela during his hospitalization with "undying love and compassion" and reiterated that he was "encouraged by the progress [Mandela] is making."

On the eve of Mandela's birthday, one of his daughters, Zindzi, said in an interview with Britain's Sky TV that her father was gaining strength and may be going home "anytime soon."

South Africans marked Mandela's 95th birthday with acts of charity. Many volunteered 67 minutes for charity to match what organizers said were the 67 years of public service by Mandela, leader of the fight against white minority rule.

"We don't only recognize him on this day. We put smiles on other people's faces, we donate to other people less fortunate," Thato Williams, a 13-year-old student, said during an assembly in Mandela's honour at Melpark Primary School in Johannesburg.

Thursday is also the 15th wedding anniversary of Mandela and Graca Machel, the former First Lady of Mozambique, who has spent much of the time in hospital with her husband.   

With files from The Associated Press