Soccer City was brought to a frenzy on Sunday night as world icon Nelson Mandela made a grand entrance prior to kick-off at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Final between European giants Netherlands and Spain.
As he entered the pitch on a buggy, accompanied by his wife Graca Michel, Madiba was greeted by a standing ovation, the roaring of vuvuzelas and cheering from the gathered supporters. It was an epic moment for the filled-to-capacity Soccer City. For a man who has not only worked tirelessly for the emancipation of his people but has also campaigned for world peace and for better lives for African people, it was only apt that he be afforded his rightful place at the finale of the world's greatest sporting showpiece in his home country.
Madiba was one of the individuals who campaigned hard for South Africa to be awarded the right to host the 2010 finals. Photographs of him in 2004 holding the FIFA World Cup Trophy in Zurich minutes after South Africa won the bid have become almost legendary. At that time Madiba told delegates and the Executive Committee Members of FIFA that hosting the tournament would be a "dream come true" for him and fellow African children. It was a bold statement from a man who had sacrificed so much to that point in his life.
Having spent 27 years in prison, most of those in the infamous Robben Island in the cold south Atlantic, Mandela become a beacon of hope and inspiration in his homeland. Madiba's role in South Africa's endeavours to bring the FIFA World Cup to his country, as well as his love of the event, are well documented. "While we were on Robben Island, the only access to a FIFA World Cup would have been through a radio. Football offered the only joyful relief to prisoners. Through football, we can celebrate the humanity of the African continent and share it with the rest of the world," Madiba once said.
Mandela, one of the most loved figures in the world today, joined an A-list of international stars, presidents, sports people, actors and other renowned personalities who were at Soccer City for the Final. The guest list included, among others, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former World Player of the Year George Weah, Roger Milla, Lucas Radebe, Rafael Nadal, Marcel Desailly and Naomi Campbell. Earlier this week, Netherlands captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst said: "I really hope to see him [Mandela], it would be fantastic. I have already met him twice and it was very powerful, very special. And it would be so nice to accept the trophy in front of him."