‘Sport can create hope’

2013-12-07 00:00

NELSON Mandela’s immense contribution to sport in South Africa is common knowledge, and it was most evident in the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup triumph of 1995.

But just six months later, Bafana Bafana replicated the Boks’ crowning moment when they won the 1996 African Cup of Nations on home soil with a 2-0 win over Tunisia to land what remains their only piece of major silverware.

Weekend Witness spoke to some of the members of that Bafana squad, and then-coach Clive Barker cites Madiba’s influence as “the biggest factor” in the side’s triumph that year.

“He had a huge influence on all of our sporting codes, and he was massive for the squad in 1996,” said Barker (69), who is still coaching at PSL outfit Mpumalanga Black Aces. “His humility, charisma, passion and strength … everything … was so evident and they had such an impact on us.”

Neil Tovey, who captained Bafana in the final, was in agreement with Barker.

“I think that the impact he had on this country has made it what it is today. If people could take the morals and values that he showed and apply it to their lives, it would make our country a whole lot better,” said Tovey. “Without him, we would have all been stuck playing club football. He opened the door for us to compete on the international stage, and I will be eternally grateful to him for that.”

An emotional Andre Arendse recalled how close Madiba was to the side of 1996. “When I heard the news, all of these memories came flooding back of the time I spent with him,” said the goalkeeper.

“During 1996, he was in the hotel with us for breakfast before every game. He had every quality of an ideal role model and he was an icon.”

On the day of his presidential inauguration — May 10, 1994 — Mandela shocked the Bafana squad and South Africa’s football community by attending their international friendly against Zambia at Ellis Park just hours after being sworn in as president of the Republic.

“For a head of state to do something like that was unheard of,” recalls Barker. “It is a known fact that Zambia look back on the 20 minutes that he spent with the sides prior to kick-off as the reason for them losing that match.”

Bafana won 2-1. “That was, and still is, the biggest day of my life,” added Barker.

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