Former Bafana Bafana coaches Jomo Sono and Augusto Palacios joined the millions of South Africans in paying tribute to former State President Nelson Mandela as they recalled some of their encounters with Madiba.
Sono, arguably SA’s greatest football player ever, described Mandela as an equal of the great Biblical prophets.
“I know some will consider this as profane but this is my honest opinion. This man was Africa’s Jesus Christ,” said Sono of the late Tata Mandela.
The former Orlando Pirates striker, who was popularly known as a troublemaker during his heydays said Mandela might have been born of an ordinary human being
but God sent this man to free our African continent from bondage.
“He did what Moses did to the Sons of Israel when he led them from Egyptian bondage. What Mandela did was a miracle right in front of our eyes. He was like those great Biblical prophets.
“I feel blessed and a sense of fulfilment for having lived during the times of this extraordinary man. I shared a few breakfasts, lunches and dinners with him. This is a privilege enjoyed by the ‘chosen few’ and I am glad I was one of those few.”
Sono said, unbeknown to most South Africans, Madiba and the current Safa president, Dr Danny Jordaan had appointed him to be the national team coach in 2002 during the World Cup in Korea and Japan.
Clive Barker had enjoyed a special relationship with Mandela, whose presence in and around the Bafana camp played a huge role in South Africa winning the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations. Madiba also inspired the Springboks to glory in the Rugby World Cup of 1995.
“An icon for what he did for South Africa generally, what he did for the football fraternity and the sport fraternity. He was something so special, an aura about him. He was everything.
“He would phone me at home. I’ve told the story a few times. My niece got the call and she turned round and said, ‘there’s a guy by the name of Nelson who wants to talk to you’.
“That just sums up exactly the type of person he was; so much love, so much emotion, so much passion and so much strength. When you think about him gone, all you want to do is go and touch him again and say come back again.
“Tough time and condolences to all his family. The whole of South Africa, the world, because he was a world leader,” said Barker.
Meanwhile, Palacios, a former Bafana coach himself, described the late statesman as the greatest leader to have lived on this planet.
“To me, the death of this icon has robbed me of the greatest inspiration to have lived on this universe.
“When I was appointed Bafana Bafana coach late in 1992, after we were massacred by Zimbabwe (4-1) and Nigeria (4-0), my first assignment was the return leg against the Super Eagles in January 1993 at FNB Stadium.
“Mr Mandela came to our camp in Helderfontein for lunch and his inspiring words led us to holding Nigeria to a famous goalless draw, although I think we could have won that match had the linesman not denied us a genuine goal by Doctor Khumalo.
“The visit by Tata to the Bafana Bafana camp was his first visit to any national sporting code after his release from prison. He told the players to forget about the 4-0 drubbing in Lagos and to know that they are representing the entire country and the flag.
“I have never seen the impact that statement made to the playing personnel. That was the birth of the Madiba Magic.
“The country has lost an icon whose influence in society reached four corners of the universe. I join the country in mourning this great man.”