15 JUNE 2010


"Madiba" was there in spirit. It was his determination that brought the World Cup to South Africa in the first place. It was his image that loomed large on screens as crowds gathered for opening day. It was his spirit that guided participants from all countries, cultures, backgrounds and religions to join in a joyous competition. Dancers, singers, artists, players and fans all came with varied colourful uniforms, presentations and creative outfits to pursue their competitive dreams in a land finally unified -- after decades of Apartheid -- through an overwhelming dream of human dignity pursued with courage and wisdom by a historic leader like Nelson Mandela.

His forced absence from the opening ceremony was tragic. His grandchild, Zenani, had just died in a car accident and "it would be inappropriate for him to personally attend" festivities, a statement explained. The mother, Zenani Mandela, was always close to her father since she read out a speech in Soweto on his behalf in 1985, when she was a young kid, refusing a conditional pardon.

One of the most highly respected and affectionately loved by millions around the world, Mr. Mandela has had a series of personal tragedies. It adds to his greatness that he managed to accomplish so much for his country, and for the world, despite daunting personal challenges. As always, his head was bloodied, but unbowed.

It is also a tribute to the current President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, that he recognized the historic value of Nelson Mandela's omnipresence and that he helped mobilize the great people of South Africa to come out in full colourful force, with the right rhythm and outstanding shows, to welcome the visiting world and announce once more the joy of shared destiny.

It was not only South Africa, but the whole of Africa, that proved its presence at such an international athletic major event that opened in Johannesburg. As in Olympic spirit, it matters who wins or loses, but what matters most is how the game is played. South Africa, in the spirit of Nelson Mandela and under President Jacob Zuma, put on a magnificent display.