”Now I can see my grave, now I can die,” Nelson Mandela said after playing the pivotal role in securing South Africa’s right to host the 2010 World Cup in May 2004.
On Saturday an emotional Premier Soccer League chairman Irvin Khoza remembered Mandela’s role at the sports fraternity’s memorial for him in Houghton, attended by Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula and the cream of the country’s sporting stars and legends.
”Madiba gave himself,” he said, defying doctors’ orders to travel to the Caribbean in a desperate attempt to secure the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football’s (Concacaf) crucial three votes before voting took place in Zurich.
“Whenever you go overseas, they see a Mandela. They have high expectations of you,” he said.
Proteas batsman Faf du Plessis described Mandela as an “angel that walked the earth”.
Former Bafana Bafana captain Lucas Radebe remembered the mythical “Madiba magic”.
“The sports history books in South Africa will show statistics and victories. What they won’t show, however, was that it was Madiba magic that forged those results and performances,” Radebe said.
Radebe said he had learnt “leadership, humility, generosity, courage and integrity” from Mandela and that his illustrious career at Leeds United would not have been possible without him.
“The chance of playing at the highest level in football outside of SA did not exist before your release from prison,” said Radebe, adding Mandela’s courage and tenacity had inspired him.
But Mandela's first love was boxing, which he took up as a student at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, Eastern Cape.
In boxing, Mandela found the rigorous exercise an excellent outlet for tension and stress.
Mandela, however, admitted that he learnt lifelong lessons from stick fighting – still considered a sport in many parts of rural South Africa.
Early in 2011, when Mandela was admitted to hospital, one of his last remaining peers in Qunu at the time, Nonxi Ndyavuthwa, believed the elderly statesman would emerge from his hospital bed thanks to the fighting skills he honed as a champion stick fighter.
Ndyavuthwa, who died last year, described “Rolihlahla” as “ikhangala, iqwakume” (Xhosa for a champion stick fighter).
Meanwhile, Mbalula expressed shock at the death of boxing great Jacob “Baby Jake” Matlala on Saturday.
“It’s a sad day, it happened while we were grieving uTata (Mandela),” he said.
Mbalula described Matlala, the shortest boxing world champion, as a great sportsman and family man.
Former Boxing SA chairman Dr Peter Ngatane, who like Matlala trained at the Dube Boxing Gym in Soweto, said he cherished the four-time world champion’s tenacity. “His tenacity was like Mandela’s”.
Matlala died at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Joburg.