Madiba – Champion of Sport and Human Rights


The Great Tree has fallen. The Great Man is no more.  Nelson Mandela departed this earth on December 5, 2013. The life history of this great champion of freedom, justice, human rights and dignity has been re-told several times, as the world came to grips with his departure.

The Southern Times Sports Forum has in past articles published in this very informative publication paid tribute to the “Great Man” for his contribution to sport development and raising the profile of sport not just in South Africa but also throughout the world.

It is a testimony to the greatness of the man that he was mourned and his life celebrated by many people all over the world, regardless of age, race, ethnic, socio-economic and political background. Various tributes have been paid to Madiba by all and sundry. It was indeed very moving and emotionally touching to see the English Premier League and UEFA  Champions League matches also joining in and saluting this brave man who, with his colleagues, fought against all odds to dislodge the abominable apartheid regime  which was holding the majority of the people in that country in sub-human bondage.

In accordance with the South African Freedom Charter and as Mandela himself would say, “South Africa belongs to all those who live in it.” It is now up to the people of that country to make sure that the “Rainbow Nation” can grow from strength to strength. Obviously, they will encounter challenges on the way but Nelson Mandela and other liberation fighters have established a solid foundation for the way forward. The same applies to the field of sport.

Africa as a whole is imbued with sporting talent in great abundance. Sport is one sector that unites this great continent building a common identity and pride, which is rarely achieved by any other aspect of human endeavour. 

This is true, especially for the game of football, which is really one of the great passions, if not a religion of the continent.  To their credit, other sport codes are projecting Africa in very positive light as well. African Athletics has produced great stars such Frank Fredericks, Haile Gebresellasie,   Hicham El Guerrouj, Geraldine Pillay, Maria Mutola, Amantle Montsho, Josiah Tugwane and many others.

In rugby, the Springboks have brought great pride not only to South Africa but also to Africa as a whole. The Springboks have become the primary drivers in the upsurge of interest and participation in the game of rugby, especially in East and Southern Africa. Rugby 7s has also grown tremendously in Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These countries are now producing very good and exciting players and teams to compete on the continent with the Blitzbokke, the South African Rugby 7s side. This is good for the development of the game throughout Africa.

Ever since South Africa’s re-entry into world sport in 1990 after the release of Nelson Mandela and subsequent unification of previously segregated sports authorities, the country’s swimmers have taken the world stage by storm. Swimmers such Penny Heyns, Natalie du Toit, Roland Schoeman, Ryk Neethling and others have established South Africa as a genuine contender on the International Swimming Federation (FINA) ranks.

In almost all sport codes, the coming of South Africa has re-invigorated African sport and brought rigorous competition where there was none before. Although South African football is undergoing transformation at the moment, there have shown in the past that they have what it takes to compete with the best in Africa and the world. 

In fact, with regard to football, Southern Africa should indeed be grateful to Mandela for helping to bring the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations to this part of the continent. 

The tournament was won by South Africa in style, testifying to the presence of “Madiba Magic” as his aura, charisma and unparalleled influence was now known. His influence was also critical to the awarding of the rights to host the FIFA 2010 World Cup to South Africa, bringing the prestigious tournament to Africa for the first time.

Now that Africa has hosted the tournament and tasted the organisation that goes with the event, there is a general sense of belief and conviction that African teams can actually go on to win this tournament. African teams have flattered to deceive in the past. 

This has been caused by, among other things, corruption and greed in the football associations concerned as well as shambolic preparations, with players perennially complaining about bonuses. These negative sideshows have caused African teams to lose focus on the football’s greatest stage. Hopefully, things will improve for the better in future events.

On the positive side, Mandela leaves a very rich and proud legacy in sport not only for South Africa but the entire continent. It is up to the present and emerging generations of sports leaders and athletes to uphold this legacy and heritage.  Sport must continue to be a unifying force on the continent practiced free of any discrimination and prejudice. 

This will be the ultimate tribute to a great man, who symbolises a generation of leaders who sacrificed everything for the liberation of their people.

The liberties, including sport, which Africa enjoys, were the product of blood, sweat and tears of various liberation movements.  

The likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Agostino Neto, Joshua Nkomo, Samora Machel, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo are some of African political giants that have carried the hopes of this continent at a time when the future seemed bleak and the enemies of Africa were threatening to overwhelm and subvert the will of the people.  

The passing on of Nelson Mandela is definitely the end of an era, of the long walk to freedom that was characterised by amazing developments and benefits for all those who love sport on the continent.

In January 2014, South Africa, again, plays host to the continent with the Africa Nations Football Championship bringing together the very best of local talent in Africa.  In addition, the draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament has been done. African sports lovers wait in hope and eager anticipation of what Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast can accomplish.

 Just as the Pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey boldly stated, “Up you Mighty Race, you can accomplish what you will”. Indeed, the Southern Times Sports Forum wishes these teams all the very best luck and success. However, as we celebrate sport, we must never forget the wise words of Madiba, “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. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair”. 

Let us work hard and use it wisely for the benefit of all our people in Southern Africa! 

December 2013
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