Tokyo Sexwale, a former political prisoner at South Africa's Robben Island for nearly two decades and now a cabinet minister in the country, has said he believes racism in football can be eradicated, just as the apartheid regime was defeated in South Africa, ahead of FIFA's annual Anti-discrimination days, which this year is being held on 24 and 25 June to coincide with the two semi-final matches of the "Festival of Champions".
Sexwale asserts that it is time to send a strong message to the rest of the world by taking far more stringent actions against people who hurl racial slurs during football matches. He said racial equality is a policy that has always been espoused by South Africa's international icon, Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison and is known to many in South Africa as Madiba.
"Madiba is the number one supporter of anti-racism, it is what he has stood for throughout his life. That is why he has close ties with FIFA; it's because FIFA promotes and stands for the same values," Sexwale said.
"In this country, we fought very hard against apartheid because we were convinced that the system was wrong, we knew that it could be defeated," said Sexwale, who spent many years with the former South African president in prison. "We must therefore stand together to fight and defeat racism in football. "
Sexwale is actively involved in FIFA's anti-racism initiatives. Together with former Chelsea and Charlton Athletic player Paul Elliot and Federico Addiechi, head of Corporate Social Responsibility for FIFA, Sexwale made a strong appeal to the world to work together in combating the scourge of racism. One result of this effort is that the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final matches will feature the captains of Brazil, South Africa, Spain and USA making brief statements in support of the fight against racism in football.
While talking about his 18 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island, Sexwale explained that it was the power of football and the joy that the game brought to his fellow prisoners that kept them alive and lifted their spirits during tough times.
"As you know, in prison we didn't have any privileges. When we were behind bars and denied all sorts of things, football was the only thing that they couldn't keep away from us," he said. "We would form makeshift balls and kick them inside our cells until they allowed football in the prison."
This led to the formation of the now acclaimed Makana Football Association, the football league in which political prisoners at Robben Island competed.
Elliot notes that there is much to be done to educate football fans across the globe. "Education is the best, we need to create more awareness all over the world on how we can end racism," he said. "I know from personal experience what its like to hear the boos and jeers from the stands. A lot of work has been done to end racism, but a long road lies ahead before we can see an end to this."