Mandela had been avoiding the World Cup since his 13-year-old great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela was killed in a drunk driving accident while returning from the World Cup opening concert. Zenani was a passenger in the car driven by a drunk male family friend. The driver lost control of the vehicle and collided with a barricade. He has been charged with drunk driving in addition to being investigated for probable homicide.
FIFA had been pressuring Mandela to appear at the closing ceremony, prompting his grandson Mandla Mandela to say, “I think people ought to just understand the family’s traditions and customs and understand we’ve had a loss in the family and we are in mourning, and that, for me, would be enough reason to leave the family to be for now.”
Mandla continued, “Their focus is having this world icon in the stadium, yet not really paying attention to our customs and traditions as a people and as a family.”
In freezing weather, the ailing Mandela made the stunning appearance with his wife Graca Machel and eight bodyguards who surrounded his golf cart. After waving a few times, he was escorted off the field to watch the match from home.
Mandela’s appearance at one of the greatest sporting events, hosted for the first time by an African country, cannot be understated. The former president of South Africa spent 27 years in prison as punishment for his lifelong fight against apartheid before his presidency.
The term apartheid, from Afrikaans (West Germanic language of Dutch origins) for “apartness,” was the official name of the South African system of racial segregation from 1948-1994. Apartheid officially ended after the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela won the multi-racial democratic elections in 1994.
Under apartheid, black people were degraded and sometimes treated as less than human. They lived in segregated residential areas as well as being forced to go to black-only schools and hospitals. South Africa duplicated railway stations, police stations, and post offices, amongst other things, in order to separate the races.
Apartheid is a well known, tragic social policy in history. Hollywood produced a film in 2009 called District 9 to represent apartheid. Directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, the film presents a scenario in South Africa where humans discover an alien race. The purpose of the Oscar-nominated film was to mainstream the horrors and injustices that the black majority in South Africa suffered under apartheid.
Apartheid came to an end because of the unrelenting efforts of Mandela and his supporters. Thus, the rare public appearance of the 91-year-old global hero, savior, and icon of peace and goodwill at such a history-making event for his country is powerfully poignant indeed.
Coupled with the large number of viewers expected to tune into the showing, Mandela’s image at the sporting event spoke louder than words. FIFA expected a global television audience of more than 700 million viewers, a larger number than that of the 2006 Final in Germany when Italy defeated France. To put it into perspective, 600 million viewers watched the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.