Praise for Madiba at Nelson Mandela Championship

By Michael Vlismas


South African professional golf continued to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela as golfers and sportsmen shared their memories of the former president ahead of Wednesday's first round of the Nelson Mandela Championship.


As the memorial service was conducted at the FNB Stadium in Soweto, there was a minute of silence during the official pro-am of the Nelson Mandela Championship at Mt Edgecombe Country Club.


It was a time when former Springbok rugby captain John Smit (left) could stand on the ninth green and reflect on his relationship with Mandela.


“He did a huge amount of work in preserving the Springbok and the emblem and I think he took a lot of criticism for it from his peers at the time. A large amount of thanks is due to Madiba for what he did for the Springbok team. The amount of time and effort he put into us, coming to see us, coming to games with us, flying over to Paris for the 2007 Rugby World Cup to wish us luck, and people will forever remember his part in the 1995 Rugby World Cup and him walking out in the number six jersey – it’s that fairytale that he created and made a reality in our country that makes us as sportsman all love him,” said Smit.


And he remembers a man with a great sense of humour, especially when it came to receiving advice about how to be a good father. “I was on my way to training one morning and my first child, Emma, had just been born. I got a call fom him. He congratulated me and gave me some sound advice on how to be the father of a daughter. He told me that only now would I truly understand the meaning of stress. That was the beauty of him. He had such a humble way of relating to people and humour was his ultimate weapon.”


Former Proteas captain Shaun Pollock (left) recalled how Mandela phoned him on the day of his wedding. “He phoned me to wish me luck. It was just after he had married Graça Machel. And when I was relieved of my captaincy duties he called me to congratulate me on how I handled the issue. He had that common touch. He understood you from a personal perspective. He would ask you about your kids and the team and so on. It wasn’t just a courtesy call, there was always more depth to it.”


South African footballer Shaun Bartlett said Mandela was responsible for him being able to further his career in England. “As sportsmen we have to give tremendous thanks to him. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have been able to play in the United Kingdom and further my career. And he came and attended my wedding, which remains one of the greatest days of my life. I’m privileged and honoured to have lived in an era where Madiba changed a lot not only for this country but the whole world.”


And golfer Branden Grace, who leads a strong field of Sunshine Tour and European Tour professionals this week, summed up the meaning of this event to him.


“You are here playing the tournament after the great legacy that Madiba created. It’s nice to be here and to have the opportunity to support a great cause.”


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