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The Madiba factor

24 June 2013

Today is the 18th anniversary of South Africa’s 1995 victory in the Rugby World Cup, and though we only watched it on TV, we went out afterwards to join the flag-waving hooting crowds driving up and down the streets of Pretoria celebrating. The image of President Nelson Mandela handing over the trophy to South African captain Francois Pienaar made such an impression that a full-length film was later made of it.

President Nelson Mandela handing over the Webb Ellis trophy when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995

President Nelson Mandela handing over the Webb Ellis trophy when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995

Now former President Nelson Mandela lies critically ill in hospital, and for a long time his poor health has not permitted him to attend sporting functions.

On the day he was sworn in as president, 10 May 1994, Nelson Mandela attended the opening match of the Nelson Mandela Inauguration Challenge Cup, where South Africa beat Zambia 2-1, and that seemed to start a tradition — whenever he was present, South African sporting teams, apparently inspired by his presence, seemed to do well, and this came to be referred to as “the Madiba factor”.

While we watched those two matches at home on TV, we were present at the FNB Stadium in 1996 when South Africa beat Tunisia in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.

So while he is ill in hospital, it is good to remember happier times, and how he inspired many South Africans, and not just the members of sports teams, to do their best.

It is sad, however, to see how his stay in hospital has turned into a media circus, with journalists encamped outside the hospital like vultures for a week or more. For what? All that they can produce is bathos, like the lines sometimes attributed to the British poet laureate,

Across the wires the electric message came
He is no better, he is much the same.

When he takes a turn for the better or for the worse, no doubt those who know will inform the world.

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Perhaps it is because the journalists are so bored that they come up with stories like this: Helter Skelter In South Africa? Alarmists Spread Fear That Whites Will Be Massacred After Nelson Mandela Dies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome of us remember when those same alarmists said that whites would be massacred if Nelson Mandela were to be released from prison. Or whites would be massacred if South Africa were to hold free and fair elections (the vultures of the media flocked from all over the world to cover that one, but took off for Rwanda before the voting was over).

My wife was working at a school when one of these alarmist rumours was doing the rounds and it got some parents so edgy that they pressured the school authorities to hire security guards to patrol the school grounds on the day of the scheduled massacre. On the day one of the Grade I pupils, on seeing the patrolling security guards, rushed to the office and breathlessly blurted out, “The rumours are coming! The rumours are coming! I’ve seen one in the school grounds.”

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