Mr. Mandela…Happy Birthday
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Nelson Mandela and his family. He was a boy who became a dreamer. A dreamer who became an activist. An activist who became a political prisoner. A political prisoner who became the 1st Black President of South Africa and a man endured by the world. And through it all, he realized the one thing that could unite his country and put it on the world stage for something other than its 46-year apartheid rule, was what he has fondly referred to as “sport”.
During his 27-year imprisonment of which 18 years were on Robben Island, games of soccer were some of the few things that kept him and his fellow prisoners mentally sound. Once he was freed in 1990, he used what he called “the power of sports” to help unite his people and rebuild a shattered South Africa torn apart by apartheid, which had ruled from 1948 until 1994. Mandela worked to bring about the transition from minority rule and apartheid to black majority rule. He used the nation’s enthusiasm for sports as a pivot point to promote reconciliation between whites and blacks, encouraging black South Africans to support the once-hated national rugby team. In 1995, South Africa was placed back on the world stage by hosting the Rugby World Cup, which brought further recognition and prestige to the young republic. Then came the 1996 African Cup of Nations, the 2003 Cricket World Cup, and then the big one — the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Mandela has often said, “Sport has the power to change the world. 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.”
Soccer was THE sport played in the townships of South Africa where blacks lived and apartheid ruled. Blacks were excluded and divided solely based on the color of their skin, not unlike the history of the country we call home, and sports were no different. However, in the townships, whites were never excluded based on their color, but rather on their skills, which is much more sensical and humane.
Mandela considered South Africa winning the bid and bringing the 2010 World Cup to South Africa as also winning it and bringing it to the entire continent of Africa, which was very important to him. And it was, apparently, his last official public appearance.
Thank you Mr. Mandela for sharing your life with us and for fighting for those whose voices were suppressed. Thank you for not doing unto others as they so wrongfully did unto you. Thank you for helping the world see that cultural understanding far outweighs hatred and indifference.
by Terri Fair