Brazilian soccer legend, Pele, and three-time African player of the year, Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon, yesterday delivered a special birthday gift to former president Nelson Mandela.
The players are among 50 past and present international stars taking part in a soccer friendly – 90 Minutes for Mandela – to mark the iconic leader’s 89th birthday today.
A beaming Mandela received an official shirt for the match with his name and the number 89 on the back.
“I am deeply honoured to receive this tribute. But it must always be remembered that I was one of many who fought for freedom from tyranny and racism,” Mandela said.
The match, to be played in Cape Town tonight, will pit an African side against a rest-of-the-world team.“I have met a lot of great personalities in my life, but Nelson Mandela is an extraordinary person. I am really touched and honoured to lead the Rest of the World team in this match. I am a big admirer of what this man has achieved in his life,” Pele said.
Mandela praised world soccer controlling body Fifa for honouring the Makana Football Association, which was formed by political prisoners on Robben Island, where he was incarcerated for 18 of the 27 years he spent in jail.
Mandela used to watch the games from his cell until prison authorities built a wall to cut him off.
Fifa vice president Jack Warner will confer honorary membership on the Makana Association ahead of tonight’s match.
“During the dark years of our incarceration, the association drew together all the prisoners on the island around the beautiful game of soccer.
“In this way it helped uphold the values of tolerance, inclusiveness, reconciliation, non-racialism and peace that are still dear to all of us today,” Mandela said.
Mandela also discussed a number of topics, including the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, during a private meeting with the players and Fifa and local soccer representatives at the Nelson Mandela Foundation offices in Johannesburg.