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Mandela used sport as a nation builder

Durban, South Africa, December 15, 2013 – Nelson Mandela was a charismatic leader, who put forgiveness and reconciliation before anger and revenge. Those are the words of Tubby Reddy, South Africa Volleyball Federation President, who had the honour to meet the former President of South Africa on several occasions.

Mandela was buried on Sunday in his childhood village Qunu, a small rural village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province some 500km to the south of Durban. Out of respect for the former President, the FIVB Beach Volleyball Durban Open semifinals and finals, which were originally scheduled for Sunday, were moved forward and completed on Saturday.

“Like everybody else here in South Africa, we as the national volleyball federation also recognize what former President Mandela achieved for our country and particularly for sport,” said Reddy.

“Apart from being the President of the South Africa Volleyball Federation I am also a member of the Olympic Committee of South Africa. Former President Mandela used sport as a nation builder particularly in our country with the apartheid system.

“There was always racial tension. That was his main focus, to try and bring people together. That is why he used reconciliation rather than being upset and angry and going for revenge and such. So that’s what people recognize, country wide and world wide.”

Reddy hopes that Mandela’s message will continue on after his death. “Like president Obama said during the memorial, there is a legacy, but are we living the legacy? There are so many teachings there, I think the issue is to follow the legacy rather to say we recognize the legacy and do nothing about it. That’s how we try to work at the federation. This event was in his memory, dedicated to his legacy.”

Shelter in Durban

In his early days Mandela often would find shelter in the Durban region in the KwaZulu Natal province. “A large part of the leadership of the ANC came from the north part of this province. They would use to move around under the cover of darkness”, explained Reddy.

“They used to stay in what we call comrades, in the homes. It did not matter whether the person was white, black, blue, as long as the house provided a safe haven. And that’s how they operated. And yes, down here was the area of one of his arrests.

“The leadership, including former President Mandela, knew that they were going to be caught someday, but they were prepared for it, and today we live in freedom because of those sacrifices.”

According to the FIVB Durban Open promoter Sunil Geness, Mandela had a special connection with the Durban region. “Across all race groups, but particularly in the Indian community, on numerous occasions they harboured him as a fugitive from the law.”

Geness, from Indian descent, had the opportunity to work with Mandela in the government and at the Mandela Foundation. “He always spoke fondly of people from this region that supported him, a number of them spent time on Robben Island with him, not the full duration of 27 years though.”

“But even at those early stages he recognized the diversity of this country, everybody had an equal opportunity in this country. He never made any population group feel less important than the others.”

Natural leader

Geness spent some time with Mandela at the end of his presidency. “I had the opportunity to work with him and getting to experience what a great leader he was at that time. You always felt the vibrancy of being around a leader and that he was a leader in a rule. He did not have to stand up to be counted.”

“The thing that always struck me on numerous occasions, was that when walking into a room, he would always greet everyone and introduce himself to everyone. This is an amazing thing. You would assume that according to his status he would assume everyone would know him. Quite the contrary, and that is a lesson in humility.”

“To be in his presence would give you goose bumps, every time again,” Reddy recalled. “That’s why I said to my kids: some of us had the opportunity to have met him, be with him, speak to him, but many have not and that is a pity. Because he grabs you inside.”

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