Tribute: First friendly coincides with Madiba’s birthday

2012-07-18 00:00

TODAY’S friendly between AmaZulu and English giants Manchester United at Moses Mabhida Stadium would be big news for South Africa on any day. But the fact that today is Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday makes it just that much more special, and United manager Sir. Alex Ferguson and his players are aware of that.

On a day when media hype followed United’s every move from their team hotel to their Moses Mabhida training session, the relevance of Madiba’s birthday and the role that he has played in transforming South Africa into what it is today was never lost.

“I have had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times,” Ferguson told a media briefing in Umhlanga. “What strikes me the most about him is that he has never held any bitterness towards anyone after all this time. To be able to do that is the mark of a great man.”

United’s captain on their South African tour, Rio Ferdinand, shared his manager’s sentiments. “It is incredible the amount of selflessness he has shown,” said the former England international. “All too often in the world today we see selfish people who are only concerned with benefiting themselves. He is a role model to all young people and teachings on his life story should be added to any curriculum so that youngsters can learn about him.”

For United’s central midfielder Michael Carrick, the occassion would be a momentous one with or without his side’s presence in Durban.

“Obviously he [Mandela] is a world icon and this is a very special moment,” the 30-year-old said. “I think we’re all priveleged just to be a part of it, even if we only have a small part to play.”

Durban mayor James Nxumalo also paid tribute to Mandela ahead of the match.

“We are humbled in that this event is happening in honour of a great statesman who dedicated his life to the struggle for the liberation of all humanity. It is with humility that we host this game on the day declared by the UN to be celebrated by the whole world to salute Mandela’s contribution to the whole world.” Those at the stadium tonight will be led by local artists as “Happy Birthday” is sung to Madiba.

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