On the eve of the FIFA World Cup™ Final, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter joined South Africa's struggle icons, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela, on a private visit to the legendary Soweto township this morning.
President Blatter and Archbishop Tutu visited Winnie Mandela at her home in Soweto, before going on a tour of the Hector Peterson Museum, which is just a stone's throw away from Tutu's residence. Danny Jordaan, CEO of the Local Organising Committee for South Africa 2010, and the country's minister of justice Jeff Radebe were also present.
"It is not easy for me to express my feelings," Blatter said. "Knowing all the history of this country including what Madiba did, I'm amazed and touched. Being here today makes me sad to see what human beings could do to other human beings. I was very pleased to be hosted by Winnie earlier today."
Blatter heaped praise on South Africa for its transition from an apartheid state to a free democratic society. "Giving the World Cup to this country has brought a renewed sense of nationalism inside the country, and that will be one of the legacies of the World Cup.
"Today, we are celebrating humanity. For me, it was important to come here and see Winnie Mandela and be here with Archbishop Tutu. It was a great day, a day before the Final. It was beyond my expectations. This will give me another feeling tomorrow when I'm at Soccer City."
Knowing all the history of this country including what Madiba did, I’m amazed and touched.
Tutu gained international acclaim during his fierce campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela in the late 1980s. Although he lives less than 500m from the Hector Peterson Museum, the Nobel Peace Prize winner has never been inside. Visibly emotional, Tutu revealed the visit brought back memories of the past. It was at his home in Cape Town that Mandela spent his first night of freedom following his release after 27 years in prison – two decades of those spent on the notorious Robben Island.
"(To be here) brings back a lot of memories," he said. "But we have travelled a long way in this country. From an apartheid state, today we are the proud hosts of the World Cup – just look at that achievement. For the kids who were killed and injured during the struggle, they are probably smiling wherever they are, these are the fruits of their labour. They didn't spill their blood for nothing. It's special to see the FIFA President here with us today to relive our history."
Winnie Mandela is the former wife of Nelson Mandela. She is one of the people who kept the struggle alive when most of the leaders were either in jail, murdered or in exile during apartheid. "I'm very honoured by this visit by the FIFA President – more especially at this important period in our history as a country," she said. "I have been overwhelmed with the success of this event."
The Hector Peterson Museum provides an in-depth looks at the nation's history, prominently featuring the Soweto Uprising that began on 16 June 1976. The first documented casualty of the Uprising, in which an estimated 200 students were killed and 600 injured during a protest against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, was Hector Peterson. A photograph of the slain youngster sent shockwaves across the globe.
Jordaan, a man who also played a role in emancipating South Africa, was equally moved by the visit. "It's a difficult day for me and an emotional moment to walk through the reality of your own life, and to see the comrades and to understand that during the days of the struggle we were just one bullet away from life and death," he said.
"Many of the people lost their lives. I just saw an image of Steve Biko and I was reminded how he inspired people, how he made people look beyond their circumstances. Today we are celebrating icons like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Winnie Mandela. In 1976 we were just dreaming of the next day, not once did we think we would host a World Cup. Today we see a non-racial South Africa – that is what we fought for."