Johannesburg: Nelson Mandela met with South
Africa`s national soccer team on Thursday, the same day the
country`s ruling party said its most famous citizen will
attend the World Cup`s opening game and the final.
Mandela wore a yellow Bafana Bafana team jersey with the
number four of captain Aaron Mokoena on the back when he
appeared with players at his foundation in Johannesburg.
Also today, African National Congress spokesman Jackson
Mthembu said Mandela will make a rare public appearance at
next week`s tournament opener, between the host and Mexico,
and the July 11 final. The announcement came amid worries the
91-year-old icon would be too frail to attend South Africa`s
biggest sporting event.
"Madiba will grace both the opening and the closing of
the World Cup," Mthembu said, using the traditional clan name
by which Mandela is affectionately known in South Africa. "We
are very honored to have an icon of Mandela`s caliber to grace
this important event. We are very happy that Madiba will come.
The Madiba magic will add to the excitement."
A spokesman at Mandela`s foundation would not say if
Mandela would attend next Friday`s match, saying they do not
disclose his schedule ahead of time for security reasons.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Wednesday World Cup
organizers desperately hoped Mandela would make the opening
game. Blatter said the World Cup would not be the same without
Mandela, and that his presence would be the "highlight" of the
South Africa`s former president retired from public life
in 2004, but made a surprise appearance last year at an ANC
rally before the national election.
Mandela now makes very few appearances in public, but was
photographed with the World Cup trophy last month.
He has been credited by FIFA as one of the architects of
Africa`s first World Cup. In December 2009, he recorded a
video message on the significance of the event.
"We feel privileged and humbled that South Africa has
been given the singular honor of being the African host
country," Mandela said in the message. "We must strive for
excellence in our hosting of the World Cup while at the same
time ensuring that the event leaves a lasting benefit to all
Today, he was greeted by South Africa`s most famous
soccer players, who sang "Nelson Mandela there is no one like
you," as he entered the room at his offices in the
Johannesburg suburb of Houghton.
Mokoena then introduced Mandela to the 1.98-meter- (6
foot, 6 inch-) tall defender Matthew Booth, and said of Booth,
"here is the tallest man in the building." Mandela himself is
1.94 meters (6 feet, 4 inches) tall.
Mandela has strong links to sport in South Africa after
he famously appeared at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final wearing
the green and gold jersey of the Springboks, the country`s
national rugby team. He had the number six of rugby captain
Francois Pienaar on the back of his jersey that day, and South
Africa went on to win the title.
A reputation for inspiring teams to victory with his
presence, known as the "Madiba magic," was cemented when he
wore a Bafana top ahead of their triumph in the 1996 African
Cup of Nations still South Africa`s only major football