Naomi’s here, Charlize is here, Morgan’s here, even Placido is here – but, finally, the last missing piece of the South Africa tableau was put in place at Soccer City tonight when Nelson Mandela made a 2-minute tour of the pitch.For the last month, the tournament has been missing the man who did so much to win the World Cup for South Africa after a tragedy on the night before kick-off plunged his family into mourning. On June 10, Mandela’s great-grand-daughter, Zenani, was killed in a car accident returning from the opening concert in Soweto, just two days after she turned 13.
That the tournament has proved a triumph for changing ideas of South Africa, and Africa, owes much to Mandela’s vision. Perhaps more than anyone, Mandela understood the transformative power of sport. Many South Africans credit his appearance at the 1995 rugby World Cup in a Springbok jersey – until then, a symbol of white supremacy – as the first moment when a nation emerging from the division of apartheid glimpsed the possibility of unity. That bold idea has been emphatically reconfirmed during the last month, which has seen South Africa come together, once again, in unprecedented fashion. Mandela’s spirit is always with South Africa, particularly at times like these. But it was great to see him. Looked pretty sprightly too.