QUNU, South Africa,
Former president Bill Clinton hailed his close ties with Nelson Mandela on a visit Tuesday to the anti-apartheid icon's rural childhood village ahead of his 94th birthday.
"It was a great honour for me to serve as a president of America while Mandela was president of the Republic of South Africa," Clinton said in Qunu, the picturesque south-eastern village where Mandela grew up.
"We worked together as presidents and even after we left office we continued working together to improve education of the children worldwide in order for them to share the future," he added.
Clinton opened a library at a primary school together with Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and daughter Zindzi ahead of the statesman's birthday Wednesday.
He said earlier that he hoped to visit Mandela, but so far no meeting has been confirmed.
"As the Mandela family we really appreciate the bond between these two families," said Machel.
She thanked "the family of Clinton for being with the family of Mandela because each and every birthday president Clinton has always availed himself."
In 2009 the United Nations declared July 18 as International Mandela Day, aimed at getting people all over the world to volunteer for good causes.
Around 3,000 schoolchildren, residents and government officials braved a chilly winter wind to attend the library opening.
Some schoolchildren performed a traditional dance in honour of the visit.
Clinton and Machel were later due to plant a tree at the Garden of Remembrance, the burial place for local chiefs.
Mandela was elected South Africa's first black president after spending 27 years in jail for his battle against white-minority oppression.
Respected for reconciling his country, the increasingly frail icon has largely withdrawn from public life. He returned to Qunu in May after a brief hospital stay in Pretoria in February.