HAPPY BIRTHDAY: President Jacob Zuma visits former president Nelson Mandela in Qunu in the Eastern Cape for his 93rd birthday celebration. Picture: GCIS PHOTO

SA's Consul-General in New York, George Monyemangene, together with a group of United Nations (UN) representatives, commemorated Mandela Day yesterday by helping to keep the city's Central Park in top shape.

The "Take Action! Inspire Change!" campaign for Mandela Day asks people everywhere to devote 67 minutes to a community-based activity.

Mr Monyemangene addressed those gathered in the park before they got to work painting benches, telling them that former president Nelson Mandela is a "global moral figure, whose example we should all follow".

"This is a day that we call upon everybody to make the world a better place, a day when we can make a huge difference," he said. "Madiba spent more than 67 years serving his country and the world at large, and so we are here to follow his example."

Laura Frank, from the Central Park Conservancy, said the park, which sees 38-million visitors a year, relies heavily on volunteers. "We were happy when the UN reached out to us, because with 843 acres (341ha) there are many tasks to be done that aren't covered by those who are employed to look after the lawns. The park is a great resource for the community here and so having people help keep it looking its best is important ," Ms Frank said.

Jennifer Davis, former director of the anti-apartheid American Committee on Africa and the Africa Fund, said people should also follow Mr Mandela' s example of tenacity: "It's enormously important to remember his contribution and that he meant to change society. He taught us to never move off your fundamental principles."

In SA , millions of schoolchildren sang Happy Birthday at 8.05am, Twitter and Facebook users posted hearts and kisses, and good wishes arrived from the Obama family.

At the same time Mr Mandela was enjoying the day in the privacy of his home in Qunu, in the Eastern Cape.

The day started with about 12,4-million schoolchildren singing for him just after 8am, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said.

"All provinces are reporting that the national flag was hoisted, the national anthem was sung and children stood side by side in their millions and sang 'Happy Birthday, Tata' with pride," she said in a statement.

President Jacob Zuma, who visited Mr Mandela in Qunu yesterday afternoon, paid tribute to Mr Mandela's legacy, saying children were always close to his heart. He said Mr Mandela, SA's first democratically elected president, changed the course of history.

US President Barack Obama saluted Mr Mandela, saying he set the standard for service delivery by public servants worldwide. Mr Obama said the US was honoured to join 192 UN member states in 2009 to declare July 18 Nelson Mandela International Day, in recognition of his contribution to peace and freedom.

Mr Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, spent the morning working in a vegetable garden at the Qunu multipurpose centre, then cut a big birthday cake and shared it with children in Qunu .

Mr Zuma's wife, Thobeka Madiba- Zuma, planned to spend her afternoon pampering cancer patients at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital as part of Mandela Day.

Politicians countrywide participated in 67 minutes of community service, including KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, who helped renovate a rural school in KwaCeza, outside Ulundi.

Mr Mandela was reported to be in good health yesterday. With Sapa