18 July 2007
Brazilian football legend Pele, Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon and Fifa vice-president Jack Warner delivered a special gift to Nelson Mandela on the eve of the “90 minutes for Mandela” football match taking place in Cape Town on Wednesday to celebrate the great man’s 89th birthday.
Pele, Eto’o and Warner visited Mandela in Johannesburg to present him with a jersey for Wednesday’s Africa XI versus Rest of the World XI match, with his name and the number 89 on the back and featuring the 46664 campaign to raise global awareness about HIV/Aids on the front.
In a statement issued by Fifa, Mandela said he was “deeply honoured” to receive the tribute, but added that “it must always be remembered that I was one of many who fought for freedom from tyranny and racism.
“It is fitting, therefore, that Fifa will also pay homage to the Makana Football Association on Robben Island,” Mandela said, referring to a ceremony to be held before Wednesday’s match at which the Makana FA – made up of political prisoners on South Africa’s former penal colony – will become an honorary member of Fifa.
“During the dark years of our incarceration, the association drew together all the prisoners on the island around the beautiful game of soccer,” Mandela said. “In this way it helped uphold the values of tolerance, of inclusiveness and reconciliation, and of non-racialism and peace that are still dear to all of us today.”
According to Fifa.com, Pele and Eto’o promised Mandela to tell the world about their South African experiences and to contribute to the fight against discrimination and Aids.
“I have met a lot of great personalities in my life, but Nelson Mandela is an extraordinary person,” Pele said in the Fifa statement. “I am really touched and honoured to lead the Rest of the World team in his birthday match.”
Eto’o said he had “always longed to meet Nelson Mandela. He has fought his whole life for equality and justice. It was an incredible moment to be able to speak with him personality.
“[On Wednesday], on the field, we will be standing in the line-up together to show a signal to the world.”
Also in attendance were 2010 Local Organising Committee CEO Danny Jordaan and chairman Irvin Khoza.
“A little over 16 years ago, the world’s most visible symbol against racial discrimination walked out of prison, dignity intact, to accelerate the momentum against South Africa’s unique form of institutionalised racism,” Khoza said. “Today we revere the man who led the most remarkable national social transformation.”
The delegation then flew to Cape Town, where Eto’o will lead the Africa XI against a Rest of the World XI headed by Pele at Newlands Stadium. Kick-off is at 8pm local time.