Ticket prices expose divisions

Fikile Mbalula (Gallo Images)
Fikile Mbalula (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - South Africa host back-to-back rugby and soccer internationals in the same stadium on Saturday in tribute to Nelson Mandela but the unique event looks set to highlight, and not heal, the nation's divisions.

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South Africa's soccer team, Bafana Bafana, play a friendly against Burkina Faso at Soccer City, which hosted the 2010 World Cup final, followed by the Rugby Championship test between the Springboks and Argentina's Pumas.

The double header marks the start of a campaign called Unite4Mandela.

"It aims to unite South Africans in celebration of Nelson Mandela's vision for sport as a unifying force in society," sports minister Fikile Mbalula said in a statement on Friday.

But the pricing of the tickets has put the event beyond the reach of most and threatens to highlight economic and racial divisions instead of supporting Mandela's belief that sport should unify the country.

Football has the country's biggest following but mainly among the black majority while rugby remains the passion of the country's white - and still largely affluent - minority.

Ticket prices for the full day's events are between R220-500 and have been selling slowly, officials said on Friday.

The prices are usual for rugby tests but international soccer matches cost no more than R100 while domestic league ties cost only R40 a ticket.

The soccer international, which kicks off at 1.30 pm local time, could be played in a largely empty stadium while the vast majority of spectators arrive later for the rugby test, which starts at 5 pm.

"We hope we will get some support," said national soccer team manager Gordon Igesund in the build-up this week. "It's for a good cause but the ticket prices are very expensive."

Reverence for Mandela, who is being honoured at various high profile events to mark his 95th birthday, means criticism has been muted.

Mandela went a long way to placating white fear and winning over a sceptical minority when he championed the return to international sport of South African teams long before the country's first democratic elections in 1994.

He charmed the Afrikaner nation with his insistence their beloved Springbok team be allowed to keep its name, emblem and colours when the majority of new sports administrators wanted rid of symbols of the old Apartheid system and famously wore the jersey to the 1995 World Cup final, when the team won.

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