JOHANNESBURG – In Mzansi, he is idolised as the “The Father of the Nation” and globally he is a living icon for his self-sacrifice for the betterment of his people.
Today, Nelson Mandela ailing in a Pretoria hospital, is a living example of a man whose sacrifices touched the world over.
No wonder, United States President Barack Obama recently called Mandela his number one hero during his visit to Robben Island where the ailing legend spent 27 years in prison.
The man did not only get global status for his political beliefs but for uniting a heavily fragmented and polarised society. At a time when the future of the country was at crossroads with deep suspicions from different sectors of society, Mandela used a tool which few would have imagined to bring all South Africans together — sport.
He was a regular feature at rugby, cricket, soccer and other sporting codes and would use every given occasion to preach about working for the country instead of personal gains.
In 1995, he earned global respect when he handed over the Rugby World Cup to then captain, Francois Pienaar and the following year, did the same to Bafana Bafana captain Neil Tovey after the senior national soccer team had beaten Tunisia 2-0 at FNB Stadium to win the Africa Cup of Nations trophy.
The delirious crowd that included blacks, whites, coloured and people of Asian descent joined hands as Mandela once more created a true Rainbow Nation through the power of sport.
In one of his famous speeches he once hailed sport as the greatest unifier: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only ?despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers,” Mandela once said.
Football in particular got most of the inspiration from the Madiba magic whenever the odds were against the national team.
And true to the magic, somehow it worked wonders much to the delight of the nation.
Not only did he use sporting events to unite people but Mandela was the main driver of the country hosting the first ever Fifa World Cup when he persuaded Fifa to give the rights to South Africa. Among other things he travelled to the Caribbean (Trinidad & Tobago) Islands to urge the then Concacaf President, Jack Warner to convince him and his region to vote for South Africa for the right to host the 2010 World Cup.
He was also present in Zurich when the country won the right to host the biggest sporting showpiece in the world.
Such accomplishments can only be achieved by a person who does not look at personal gains but the good of his people.
Among some of his greatest accomplishments, on June 24, 1995, he encouraged black South Africans to get behind the previously hated national rugby team.
After the Springboks won an epic final over New Zealand, Mandela presented the trophy to captain, wearing a Springbok shirt with Pienaar’s own number 6 on the back.
On February 3, 1996, Mandela handed Neil Tovey the Africa Cup of Nations trophy and on November 19, 1998; he was awarded — in recognition of his contribution to democracy — ?Human Rights and Freedom by the Supreme Council of Sports in Africa in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
In April 2004, the month before world football governing body Fifa was due to announce the 2010 World Cup host, Mandela visited Trinidad and Tobago to meet Warner; a key member of Fifa’s executive committee.
“Jack bluntly told us that if we wanted his vote, we must bring Mandela to the Caribbean,” said Irvin Khoza, chair of South ?Africa’s World Cup organising committee later confided.
On May 15, 2004, Mandela was present in Zurich for the awarding of the 2010 Fifa World Cup hosting rights to South Africa.
On June 4, 2010, the icon met Bafana Bafana’s World Cup team at the Nelson Mandela Foundation offices in Johannesburg to wish the team well for the 2010 Fifa World Cup.
Wearing a Bafana Bafana jersey carrying the captain’s number “4”, Mandela arrived to cheers and song from the team, members of his family and his staff.
His last public appearance was on July 11, 2010 during the 2010 Fifa World Cup closing ceremony and final between Spain and Netherlands.
As the great man lies on his hospital bed, the world should pray for this icon to see his 95th birthday which is in a few weeks’ time and many more years to come.
The world loves him and we do love him.
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