“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. It laughs in the face of all kinds of discrimination.” - Nelson Mandela, May 25, 2000
Nelson Mandela’s role in freeing South Africa from the noose of Apartheid needs no repetition. The fight, the freedom, the victory has been well documented over the past few days and will continue to be, as memories and tributes pour from around the world for one of the greatest men ever to have lived, arguably the most inspirational, incredible, important in our lifetime.
We all have our favourite iconic image of Madiba: the defiant defendant regularly persecuted by the regime; the fists raised through barred windows after being convicted of conspiracy; Nelson and Winnie, fists clenched on the ANC leader’s release from Victor Verster prison; the newly-elected President swearing the inauguration oath; Mandela and FW de Klerk arms aloft at the inauguration; returning to Robben Island staring through the bars of his old cell; Madiba with Archbishop Desmond Tutu holding aloft the World Cup after South Africa were awarded its hosting.
And the photo above, Mr Mandela in a Springbok jersey, the ultimate symbol of Afrikaner identity and minority supremacy, handing the rugby World Cup to Francois Pienaar… unbelievable, unthinkable, unimaginable.
That moment of reconciliation, joy and hope was for many South Africans the real birth of the Rainbow Nation, a fitting finish to a memorable tournament many thought they’d never host. Such was the power of Mandela: love not hate; friendship not fear; warmth not bitterness.