Sports-mad South Africa salutes Mandela 'The Captain'

Sat Dec 7, 2013 2:11pm EST
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By Ed Cropley and Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Sports-mad South Africa saluted Nelson Mandela on Saturday with smiles and moments of silence in honour of the late anti-apartheid leader, who inspired people to pursue the impossible from politics to the playing field.

The tributes stretched across the sporting spectrum, from club cricket and fun runs to top fixtures such as a League Cup final between Platinum Stars and Orlando Pirates, the Soweto giants believed to have been Mandela's favourite soccer side.

In their first comments since his death on Thursday evening, Mandela's family thanked South Africa and the wider world for their support.

"It has not been easy for the last two days and it won't be pleasant for the days to come. But with the support we are receiving from here and beyond, in due time all will be well for the family," they said in a statement.

Saturday's Cup final before a 40,000 crowd in the northeast city of Nelspruit was preceded by a moment of silence in honour of South Africa's first black president, whose early sporting prowess, particularly in boxing and soccer, was cut short when he was jailed for 27 years by the apartheid government.

A cricket one-day international against India in Durban will go ahead as planned on Sunday after talks with the government over whether to postpone it as a mark of respect.

It too will include tributes to Mandela - known affectionately by his clan name "Madiba" - reflecting his belief in the power of sport to unite divided peoples.

On Saturday, many recalled Mandela's central role in arguably South Africa's greatest sporting triumph - winning the 1995 rugby World Cup just one year after the multi-racial elections that ended decades of white-minority rule.   Continued...

People dance during a gathering of mourners on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where the former South African President Nelson Mandela resided when he lived in the township, December 7, 2013. REUTERS/Yves Herman