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Madiba knew the power of sports

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Mandela spent some time in the ring

Mandela spent some time in the ring during his youth days. Agencies photo 

By Moses Banturaki

Posted  Saturday, December 14  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

But behind all that statesmanship and diplomatic splendour was a man who believed in the uncomplicated potency of sports as a unifying tool.

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A former boxer in his own right, Madiba must have learnt at an early age that apart from a general sense of purpose and discipline, sports can instill in us a comradeship.

Late last week, Nelson Mandela’s candle finally burnt out as silently as he probably would have wanted.
Even if he is known the world over for his humility, he of all people, was entitled to a little smug satisfaction and must have been at peace with himself in his last days because surely his debt to society was paid many times over.
Yet as millions the world over continue to celebrate his life and dry the well of superlatives used to describe him, I feel not enough is mentioned of his uncanny ability to use sports as a unifying factor.

But behind all that statesmanship and diplomatic splendour was a man who believed in the uncomplicated potency of sports as a unifying tool. A former boxer in his own right, Madiba must have learnt at an early age that apart from a general sense of purpose and discipline, sports can instil in us a comradeship. And it was something he was to milk to the maximum after he came to power in 1994.

Few sights in modern South Africa stand out as the iconic images of Madiba in a Springbok shirt at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg. It’s only 20 years ago but back then it wasn’t that obvious for a black man to be welcome at a rugby game let alone cheer a predominantly white team.

But there they were, black and white dancing, all led by Nelson Mandela doing that somewhat off-rhythm-fists-clenched shuffle of his. Afcon was to follow a year later in 1996. Also Africa’s first World Cup much later, had Madiba star dust sprinkled all over it.

And even now in his death, the magic continues as it is also being mentioned in hushed tones that the International Olympic Committee will consider honouring one of the big man’s last wishes – and that was that the Olympics be brought to South Africa.

Whenever he could, Mandela was always looking for ways of keeping his people in unity.
Unfortunately, unlike Madiba, many African leaders don’t appreciate how sports can be used to bring together a people divided by prejudices.

History is not short on the powerful examples of unity through sports. Still, many consider sports as a nonsensical distraction from the more important matters of nation building.
And even if you were to move closer home, we may not be a nation weighed down by apartheid but it could be said we are disjointed both in purpose and belief.
Nonetheless, you all must have noticed how all our disagreements fall away when The Cranes are skinning someone at Namboole or Stephen Kiprotich is leaving everyone in his trail?

Yes, that’s the power of sports and soon or later, we are going to have to milk it.
We should neither look at sports as a pass-time for hedonistic types nor underestimate its powers to bond people and build nations. Madiba knew this and he showed us how.

He demonstrated to us what can be achieved by forging a common purpose even if that is as simple as cheering sports men and women. He is now gone but I imagine he would expect all of us to heed the lessons. And what invaluable lessons they were. Fare thee well Madiba.

Madiba magic
And even now in his death, the magic continues as it is also being mentioned in hushed tones that the International Olympic Committee will consider honouring one of the big man’s last wishes – and that was that the Olympics be brought to South Africa.

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