Madiba invited to World Cup final

Former South African president Nelson Mandela has been invited to attend next weekend’s World Cup final between the Springboks and England.

South Africa coach Jake White said the current president Thabo Mbeki had already confirmed he would attend the match and there was a chance Mandela might also come to Paris if he was healthy enough to make the trip.

“I can confirm that Mbeki will attend,” White told a news conference on Monday after the Springboks had booked their place in the final by beating Argentina 37-13 the previous night.

“When Madiba was [recently)] staying in Paris for his children’s foundation, we visited him and gave him a number two jersey.

“An invitation was extended there that he was more than welcome to come and join us in the week of the final.”

Mandela, who spent over a quarter of century in prison, was president when South Africa won the World Cup at Johannesburg in 1995 and helped inspire the team to victory.

He arrived at Ellis Park wearing a replica of Springbok captain Francois Pienaar’s number six jersey, shaking his hand before the match, then presenting him with the Webb Ellis Cup after they had won the final.

White said the team had given Mandela a replica of current captain John Smit’s number two jersey but his attendance at the final would be dependent on his health.

“I’m just hoping that Zelda [la Grange, Mandela’s personal assistant] will see what his diary looks like, but more importantly it’s what his health looks like,” White said.

“These long trips are not too good for him so hopefully he’s feeling up for it and if he’s strong enough I’m sure he’ll be here.”

South Africa were banned from competing at the first two World Cups, in 1987 and 1991, because of apartheid but made an emotional return in 1995.

Chosen to host the tournament, they rode a wave of national support to defy the odds and beat New Zealand in extra-time in the final.

Few people thought the Springboks would win the title this time but they were catapulted to favourites after New Zealand and Australia crashed out in the quarterfinals and host-nation France bowed out in the semis.

“It’s a massive thing. No one gave us a chance before we left,” White said.

“The reality of coming here and being in the final is massive. To win a World Cup away from home would be massive for us.”—Reuters


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