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Mandela's World Cup wave and soccer on Robben Island

Jere Longman recalls Nelson Mandela's last public appearance and relates how soccer played a role during his imprisonment.

"His last public appearance came at the final of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Wearing a coat, gloves and a fur hat, Mandela seemed frail and dressed against something more penetrating than the evening chill. Still, he waved from a golf cart and stirred a stadium built like a calabash, a hollowed-out gourd meant to symbolize a melting pot of cultures."

Eighteen of his 27 years in incarceration were spent on Robben Island, a harsh penal colony off Cape Town.

"On Robben Island, Mandela was kept isolated and was not allowed to play in the prisoners’ soccer league on. ... Still, he eagerly followed the league results and recognized soccer’s value to other prisoners in providing a sense of humanity and defiance. Mandela said, 'The energy, passion and dedication the game created made us feel alive and triumphant despite the situation we found ourselves in.'"

Read the whole story at New York Times »

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