Mandela: Unifying society through sport

  • Khurram Habib, Hindustan Times, Johannesburg/Durban
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  • Updated: Dec 07, 2013 01:37 IST

At the Kingsmead on Saturday morning, a couple of trainees walked into the lobby, and glancing at the news on Nelson Mandela's demise, quipped irritatingly, "Can't they (TV) show anything else now? Is that what we are paying them for?"

The elderly lady behind the reception desk thundered, "Watch it kids. If not for him, you wouldn't have been here!"

The youngsters walked away giggling to the Kwazulu Natal Cricket Union's administrative block that now has people of all races on its payroll.

Last night at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, probably minutes before Mandela passed away, a South African cricket commentator of Indian origin paid the ultimate tribute. "It is due to him that I am able to pursue this. I feel lucky he lived in my times. You see those technicians (in the match) and us Indians speaking and reporting on cricket here, it was impossible before the mid-90s."

Mandela or ‘Madiba', as he is fondly known, had that kind of effect on every walk of life. Johannesburg's Nelson Mandela Square is the city's brightest spot with a large statue of Mandela overlooking the restaurants and pubs that finds people of all races. But for all of this to happen, sport was one of the driving forces.

The middle-aged commentator, working for a local broadcasting network, recalls the days of his childhood when things would be difficult.

"It was humiliating. There would be two games taking place in one city. For example, Western Province would be playing Free State at the Wanderers. But 10-15 miles away from the Wanderers in Lenasia, a locality of Asian origin people, another Western Province side would be playing a Free State side. This would be multi-racial."

Mandela tried to break the shackles in the mid-90s and ensured more opportunities in the mainstream by first making them (the locals) enter sport like cricket and rugby. Football got a new dimension with the hosting of the World Cup and a venue built in Soweto, a ghetto.

Clint Eastwood's biographical blockbuster Invictus recaptured Mandela's efforts in bringing the population together through rugby, a sport dominated by Afrikaaners, and is evident every day.

That Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Hashim Amla and countless coloured players have walked on the hallowed turf of the Wanderers together vindicates the success of the effort.

Explaining Madiba's efforts and how he used sport to unite, former captain Ali Bacher said, "He made frequent visits to the Ellis Park Rugby Stadium and although he wasn't quite fond of cricket, he dropped in at the Wanderers too."

Mandela congratulated Lance Klusener in Zulu after the win in a World Cup game in 1999 just as he did Makhaya Ntini when he played his 100th Test.

A former first-class cricketer of Indian origin residing here and who played for Natal earlier, gave Lance Klusener's example. Hailing from a "privileged background", Klusener is now in charge of the home franchise that has plenty of colour.


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