US President Barack Obama paid tribute to Nelson Mandela today, to mark his 93rd birthday, calling the former South African leader a “beacon for the global community”.

Mandela celebrated his birthday today in his family home in the South African village of Qunu, which is around 600 miles south of Johannesburg.

A White House statement from President Obama and his wife Michelle said: “On behalf of the people of the United States, we congratulate Nelson Mandela, and honor his vision for a better world.

"A man who devoted 67 years of his life to public service, Madiba sets the standard for service worldwide, whether we are students, shopkeepers or farmers, cabinet ministers or presidents. He calls on us to serve our fellow human beings, and better our communities."

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The statement added that Mandela remains “a beacon for the global community, and for all who work for democracy, justice and reconciliation.

"Mandela's legacy exemplifies wisdom, strength and grace, and on the anniversary of his birth we salute the example of his life."

The former leader also received a birthday surprise from over 12 million students around the world before lessons began this morning, when they sang him a special version of Happy Birthday.