Sunday 8 December 2013

How Nelson Mandela changed everything with a rugby jersey

The Straits Times, 6 Dec 2013

JOHANNESBURG (AP) - He emerged into bright winter sunshine, stepped onto the lush field and pulled on a cap. His long-sleeve green rugby jersey was untucked and buttoned right up to the top, a style all his own. On the back, a gold No. 6, big and bold.

Within seconds, the chants went up from the fans packed into Ellis Park stadium in the heart of Johannesburg: "Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!"

Mr Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, was wearing the colours of the Springboks and 65,000 white rugby supporters were joyously shouting his name.

It was 1995. The Rugby World Cup final, rugby's biggest game. And yet it was much more. It was nation-defining for South Africa, a transcendent moment in the transformation from apartheid to multi-racial democracy.

The day spawned books and a blockbuster Clint Eastwood movie. It still speaks - nearly 20 years later - to what sport is capable of achieving. With his cap and a team jersey, Mr Mandela showed an incisive understanding of the role sport plays in millions of lives.

Mr Mandela died on Thursday local time at the age of 95.

"Sport has the power to change the world," he said in a speech five years after that match. "It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does."

A statesman, Mr Mandela didn't just have brushes with sports, occasional appearances timed only for political gain. He embraced them wholeheartedly - rugby, football, cricket, boxing, track and field, among others. And, by many accounts, he truly loved athletic contests, with their celebration of humanity and how they unite teammates, fans and countries in triumph and, sometimes, in despair. At one time in his youth, Mr Mandela cut an impressive figure as an amateur boxer.

On June 24, 1995, Mr Mandela and South Africa were triumphant. And he may just have saved a country by pulling on that green and gold jersey with a prancing antelope on the left breast. The Springboks were dear to the hearts of South Africa's white Afrikaners and loathed by the nation's black majority. By donning their emblem, Mr Mandela reconciled a nation fractured and badly damaged by racism and hatred.

"Not in my wildest dreams did I think that Nelson Mandela would pitch up at the final wearing a Springbok on his heart," South Africa's captain on that day, Francois Pienaar, said in a television interview some time later.

"When he walked into our changing room to say good luck to us, he turned around and my number was on his back.

"It was just an amazing feeling."

Mr Mandela also could leave millionaire sportsmen like David Beckham and Tiger Woods star-struck.

"Allow me to introduce myself to you," he joked to then-England soccer captain Beckham when they met in 2003. Only there was no doubting who wanted to meet whom.

A young Woods came out of his audience with Mr Mandela, proudly clutching a copy of the president's autobiography.

Beckham, sitting - almost shyly - on the arm of Mr Mandela's chair, said his meeting was "an amazing honour," even if Mr Mandela wasn't sure what to make of the superstar's hairstyle of the moment - dreadlocks.

"I'm too old to express an opinion on the latest developments for young people," he said with a laugh.

In fact, Mr Mandela, who came out of prison at 71 after decades of isolation, never lost touch. It was part of what made him an inspiration for sport and sportsmen and women. While he was incarcerated, South Africa was thrown out of the Olympics for over 30 years and only allowed back in after he was released.

Now, Mr Mandela, known affectionately to South Africans by his clan name Madiba, was wearing the No. 6 jersey of Pienaar - the Afrikaans rugby player with whom he had struck up a close friendship. The relationship was portrayed by Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in the film "Invictus" and took rugby and the story of the '95 World Cup to millions unfamiliar with South Africa's game.

The underdog South Africans won that day, beating New Zealand - the top team in the world - in extra time of a nerve-racking final.

"We underestimated how proud it would make South Africa," Pienaar said, recalling the tournament and telling of how Mr Mandela would phone him up regularly to check on the team. "It would be Madiba, wanting to chat to me, to find out what's happening. Is the team focused? Are they OK? Are the guys cool?"

The phone calls told of Mr Mandela's desire for the Springboks to win for all South Africans, but also his affinity with sport.

He repeated his success in 1996, this time wearing a South Africa national football team shirt as Bafana Bafana claimed the African Cup of Nations title, again on home soil. With Mr Mandela, it appeared you couldn't lose.

He also was pivotal in helping South Africa eventually win the right to host the 2010 World Cup, the first in Africa and perhaps the biggest test of South Africa's progress, of its coming of age, just 16 years into its young democracy. South Africa came through it with high praise, sweeping aside the doubters - as Mr Mandela said his country would.

His last public appearance for South Africa was at that World Cup final in Soweto, the township closely connected to the struggle against apartheid and the center of the world again for a few weeks - this time in celebration. By then, Mr Mandela was old and, unable to walk for too long and bundled up against the cold in a thick coat and hat, he circled the stadium on a golf cart.

South Africa, and the world, couldn't celebrate the country's biggest sporting moment without him. Yet, painfully maybe, it reminded them of a former Mandela. One 15 years earlier.

As he strode out onto the Ellis Park field in June 1995, Mr Mandela stretched out his hand as he approached a line of muscular, young, mostly white South African players. He was crossing a chasm, both in sport and in politics. And yet, he made the journey smoothly and with a smile.

After South Africa, had won the final 15-12, a fairytale ending to its first major event as a democracy, Mr Mandela - still in his jersey - handed the glistening gold World Cup trophy to the blonde-haired Pienaar, an ideal picture of a new South Africa.

He reached out his left hand and laid it on Pienaar's right shoulder, patting it gently.

"He said to me 'Thank you for what you have done for South Africa,"'

Pienaar recalled. "I said to him, 'No, Madiba, you've got it wrong. Thank you for what you've done for South Africa.' And I felt like hugging him. I really felt like giving him a big hug, but it wasn't protocol ... and that just gave me shivers down my spine."

And then Mr Mandela raised both his arms in celebration, smiling gleefully with obvious and undisguised delight as Pienaar lifted the cup.

"Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination," Mr Mandela said.

And he proved it.

Singapore leaders pay tribute to 'historic leader and eminent statesman'
The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong and top Singapore leaders yesterday paid tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, praising him as a historic leader and eminent statesman who inspired millions around the world with his courage and wisdom.

Mr Mandela, who died in his Johannesburg home yesterday after a long battle with a lung infection, was also credited with raising relations with Singapore to a high point with his state visit in March 1997.

"Singapore stands with South Africa in mourning Mr Mandela's passing. Our thoughts are with Mr Mandela's family and the people of South Africa during this period," PM Lee said in a condolence letter to South African President Jacob Zuma.

"His humanity, courage and lifelong fight for freedom and equality inspired millions around the world. His demise is a great loss to South Africa and mankind."

President Tony Tan Keng Yam, in a separate letter to Mr Zuma, said Mr Mandela was a "true freedom fighter" whose sacrifices and dedication "transformed his beloved country into a harmonious and multiracial nation that is today an example to nations around the world".

Dr Tan recalled introducing Mr Mandela when he delivered the 16th Singapore Lecture - on the topic South and Southern Africa Into The Next Century - during his visit in 1997.

"I remember telling the audience that he was 'no ordinary man'. He captivated everyone with his humility, charm and wit," Dr Tan wrote. "The rousing ovation that greeted his entry into and departure from the hall that day remains firmly etched in my memory."

During his two-day visit 16 years ago, Mr Mandela met the late president Ong Teng Cheong, then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Both Mr Lee and Mr Goh also penned their thoughts on the former South African leader upon hearing the news of his death.

Mr Lee described him as "an inspiration to an entire generation" without whom South Africa would not be where it is today.

Mr Goh, who met him on several occasions in Africa and at international summits, noted that Mr Mandela was always forthcoming and candid in his views and advice.

A hybrid orchid, which has a bright yellow hue and a blush of red, was named after Mr Mandela during his visit. A tree native of tropical West Africa, a Cola gigantea or Giant Cola, was also dedicated to commemorate his visit - a first for a visiting dignitary.

In a letter to his South African counterpart Maite Nkoana- Mashabane, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam wrote: "We shall not forget that the excellent bilateral relations that our two countries enjoy today was in no small measure due to Mr Mandela's sincere friendship towards Singapore."

Mandela's legacy continues to bloom in Singapore
The Straits Times, 7 Dec 2013

It has been more than 16 years since Mr Nelson Mandela set foot in Singapore and left his mark with a hybrid orchid that bears his name.

Mr Mandela’s state visit to Singapore in March 1997 – the first by a South African head of state – was part of a regional tour to further his country’s ties with South-east Asia.

He met the late President Ong Teng Cheong, then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

During the two-day trip, he also visited the Port of Singapore Authority and the National Orchid Garden, where an orchid with a bright yellow hue and a blush of red was named after him.

Dozens of Singaporeans and tourists gathered around to greet and chat with Mr Mandela and then-travelling companion Graca Machel, the widow of former Mozambique president Samora Machel, at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Mr Mandela married Ms Machel in 1998.

Apart from welcoming him with flowers, Mr Mandela also became the first dignitary in Singapore to have a tree dedicated to commemorate his visit here. It was perhaps fitting that the tree, a Cola gigantea or Giant Cola, is a native of tropical West Africa.

The anti-apartheid icon also delivered the 16th Singapore Lecture on the topic of “South and Southern Africa into the Next Century” at the Shangri-La Hotel, where then-Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan described him as a “living legend”.

His humility was apparent, as were his charm, charisma and wit as he took questions from the audience.

At the state banquet hosted by Mr Ong, Mr Mandela described Singapore as one of the leading nations of the late 20th century.

He said the Republic’s recipe of good governance, sound economic policies and investment in people made this possible.

“It is this holistic approach that we in South Africa want to emulate and implement in order to improve the lives of our people,” he had said.

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