Sports helped in that quest for unity. Mandela understood its power, so even though the South African rugby team, called the Springboks, symbolized racial privilege to blacks, he still brought the Rugby World Cup to his nation in 1995.
On the day of the final that South Africa would win over New Zealand, Mandela strode onto the field at Ellis Park in Johannesburg wearing a Springbok green jersey and hat. The fans, mostly white, chanted “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!” That would lead to other big sporting events in that land, most notably soccer’s World Cup in 2010.
By then, Mandela was ailing, and his prolonged goodbye gave us all a chance to prepare for this sad day. The sadness soon faded away, though. And in Cape Town and Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, and especially places like Soweto, South Africans danced and celebrated Madiba’s life, and all he had done to further the cause of freedom and justice.
Nelson Mandela taught us so much. If he, of all people, could forgive and heal those that tried to ruin him and those that believed in him, what excuse do we have to hate? It’s better to hope, and dream, of a better, more peaceful and more equal world, as he did throughout his 95-plus years on earth.
Hamba Gahle (Go In Peace), Madiba. And thank you.