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World Cup: Nelson Mandela says, 'I played a crucial role'

June 17, 2010 | 10:10 am

Mandela_240 The World Cup would never have come to South Africa if Nelson Mandela, the former president, anti-apartheid activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and the man some people call the father of the new South Africa, hadn't come first.

Yet the tournament has gone on without him. A week into the country’s month-long celebration, Mandela, who had not spoken or previously appeared in public since the tournament began, attended the funeral of his 13-year-old great granddaughter Thursday. But the 91-year-old, who is in frail health, is following events closely, according to his grandson Mandla Mandela, a member of the South African parliament.

“He is fully in support of the 2010 World Cup,” said Mandla Mandela, adding that if his grandfather had a goal for the tournament it would be “to unite our people under a peaceful umbrella.”

“Africa has been ridden by conflict,” he said. “So this event should enable Africans first to realize that we are able to [host] a world-class event. And in the ability to do so, we should assert ourselves to participate fully in the global community.”

Nelson Mandela was expected to attend the opening ceremonies as well as the World Cup’s first game between Mexico and South Africa. But his great granddaughter Zenani Mandela was killed in an auto accident early on the morning of the opener.

“The passing of his great-granddaughter has been a tragic blow to the family, and we’ve taken time to mourn her passing,” said Mandla, who also attended the funeral before appearing at a charity event to raise money for the rural village his family comes from.

But, Mandla said, his grandfather was fully aware of the role he played in bringing the world to South Africa.

“My grandfather, when we were talking about the opening of the World Cup, he was always saying to us, ‘You know I played a crucial role in securing this World Cup.’ And he insisted to the family members that [he] must be present,” Mandla said. “We were really sympathetic to his cause. He wished to be there.

“With the loss of his great-granddaughter, he was there in spirit.”

Mandla, who succeeded his grandfather as chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council, spoke in an art gallery Thursday afternoon where limited editions of World Cup-themed paintings were being sold to help support programs in the poor rural village in southeastern Africa where Nelson Mandela was born.

 "Like many rural areas in the country, we are situated in extreme measures of poverty," Mandla Mandela said of Mvezo. "Our community is living without access to clean water, without access to proper health facilities and educational facilities. No sanitation as well as no electricity.

"Even in my own household there is no electricity as well as drinking water."

Among the immediate goals for the community is to use money from the art sale to help build a high school and a health center, Mandela said.

To see the art online, go to

-- Kevin Baxter

Photo: Nelson Mandela. Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko / Associated Press.