He is one of South Africa's greatest footballing export - spending 11 years at Leeds United and even leading the team that progressed to the UEFA Champions League semifinals in 2001. Lucas Radebe tells FIFA.com why he is delighted to put in his '90 Minutes for Mandela'.
FIFA.com: What did Nelson Mandela mean to you growing up?
Lucas Radebe: It was strange. We all knew who he was because of his role in the struggle, but we did not know what he looked like as the only pictures of him were out of date. There was a certain mystery surrounding him. He was our hero, our role-model, our leader in the struggle, our best hope of freedom. But we knew we could not be free while he was in jail, so we sang his name and protested against the apartheid regime. We trusted that he would become a great leader for our people, and so it proved. He is a great man ... the greatest South African.
You were sent to Bophuthatswana to protect yourself from your anti-apartheid activities ...
Yes, and for me to get a more rounded education. The schools in Diepkloof (near Johannesburg) where I lived were not suitable for me, the standard of education was poor and my parents wanted better. So in 1976 they moved me to Zeerust, away from the troubles on the street and into a better school. I did well there and went on a teachers' training college, but only stayed there about three months before Kaizer Chiefs signed me.
Do you remember the first time you met Madiba?
I'll never forget it! We were in camp at a hotel in Johannesburg in 1994 and had to get up at 5am to meet him. He walked into the room and all of the hairs on my back and arms stood on end. He had such an aura about him. I had goosebumps and was so nervous I could hardly speak. It was so different seeing him in the flesh to the pictures on television, but you could see the struggle etched on his face. It was a great privilege to shake his hand and though I have met him many times since, it remains an honour each time.
People often speak of the 'Madiba Magic' that has inspired South Africans in all sporting codes. Was it the same for Bafana?
Absolutely. Like I said, such is his presence that you felt compelled to perform for him and scared that you might let him down. He would often visit us when we were camped and give us a pep talk. It really gave us a great lift to know that he cared enough to take time out of his hectic schedule to talk with us.
How is your role as 2010 Ambassador going?
Our roles with the 2010 FIFA World Cup Local Organising Committee are still being clarified, but I am extremely honoured and privileged to be of service to my country. We travelled to Germany during the 2006 FIFA World Cup and spoke to the media and people there about our excitement at showcasing our culture, infrastructure and friendliness to people from all over the world.
Do you enjoy playing in these charity matches?
I have missed the game so much since I retired in 2005; so much so that I even contemplated making a comeback. But I knew my knees would not be up to the task of playing at a professional level. But my boots are always ready to come out for games like this.
Are you excited at possibly renewing your central defensive partnership with Mark Fish?
Definitely! 'Fishy' and I have played together for such a long time for Bafana, and then against each other in England. I enjoy being on the same pitch as him and we complemented each other well.
You have previously stated that Pelé would be one of the first names in your all-time Dream Team XI, now you will be playing alongside him ...
It means a lot to me to share a field with one of the greatest players ever. Even at the age of 66, to see his skills, flair ... it will be wonderful - a great moment.
Do you have a birthday message for Madiba?
I would like to wish him all the luck and joy for the future. I look forward to enjoying the 2010 FIFA World Cup with him and hope that the younger generation in our country - those not involved in the struggle - will grow to know and love this living legend.