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Charity and service commemorate Nelson Mandela Day

On International Nelson Mandela Day, all are encouraged to work for their communities, in memory of the late South African president Nelson Mandela, who spent his life fighting for social justice and a free, democratic country. 

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A woman carrying a child on her back walks past a mural showing former South African president Nelson Mandela's face at Katlehong township, 35 km east of Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, July 18, 2015.

Themba Hadebe/AP

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South Africans honored the 67 years of former president Nelson Mandela's service to the country with 67 minutes of charity and community action around the country on his birthday Saturday.

Established in 2009, International Nelson Mandela Day is meant to encourage South Africans to emulate Mr. Mandela's humanitarian legacy and recognize the decades he spent fighting apartheid.

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All over the country, volunteers handed out blankets and books, distributed toys at orphanages, and cleaned up public areas, before reporting their activities on social media.

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His former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela held a lunch for elderly, needy women at the Mandela family restaurant near the family home in Soweto, calling it a chance to recommit to his values of "bettering the lives of our people."

Dozens of elderly women wrapped in coats and scarves against the crisp winter weather filled a tent set up on the road.

"It makes me happy but it reminds me of the past, of the apartheid years," said Elizabeth Khoba, who had just received a fleecy purple blanket. She lived near the late statesman and remembered him "as a very tall chap" who would chide misbehaving children in the neighborhood.

Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, who once lived a few doors away from Mandela, described his fellow Nobel laureate's work as "a lifetime of selflessness – an example of humanity for the ages."

At the University of Johannesburg, Mandela's widow Graca Machel gave out food parcels and blankets knitted specifically for the occasion.

"Knowing my man as I know, wherever he is up there, he is with a bright bright smile blessing you all, blessing our nation," said Ms. Machel.

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Mandela died in December 2013.

To mark the day, the United Nations announced the first Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize, to be awarded every five years to a man and woman who have furthered his legacy, which embodied "the highest values of the United Nations," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.