"He has given his whole life to the people and has done a lot for the country. Now he deserves a rest," said Jakes Gerwel, close associate and chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, one of the former president's legacy organizations.
Mandela plans to divide his time among his homes in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Qunu, the rural village of his birth in the Transkei, a territory on the southeast seaboard of South Africa.
Last month Mandela fulfilled what is regarded to have been his last major political function. He addressed the South African parliament on May 10, the date on which, ten years earlier, he was sworn in as president.
He started his speech in typical style, by telling the Speaker of Parliament that he was aware that an exception had to be made to the standing rules "to allow a retired old pensioner, who is neither a member of Parliament nor the serving head of state of any country, to address you."
Referring to the fact that his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, former President F.W. de Klerk, who released him from jail, was also allowed to address Parliament, Mandela added: "That all the parties represented in parliament unanimously consented to this extraordinary departure from the rules touches us, not only for the honor it pays us, but also for the spirit of our nation that it speaks of."
Recalling the atmosphere at what he called the ceremonial birth of South African democracy ten years earlier, Mandela said: "We recall the joy and excitement of a nation that had found itself, the collective relief that we had stepped out of our restrictive past, and the expectant air of walking into a brighter future."
Mandela first intimated his intention to step out of the limelight immediately after it was announced on May 15 that South Africa had won its bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup of soccer.
Mandela was in Zurich, where he and fellow South African Nobel Peace Prize laureates de Klerk and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, played a key role in persuading members of soccer's international controlling body to vote for their country. Sitting in the front row of the hotel room where the announcement was made, Mandela broke into a relieved smile as the verdict came.
In the emotion-charged atmosphere, a beaming Mandela, surrounded by well-wishers, said, "I feel like I am 15 years old." A little later his mood changed. With tears of happiness trickling down his cheeks, he said, "I can see my grave now. I shall be withdrawing from public life at the end of this month [May]."
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