Rainbow nation out to support Mandela's dream

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Published August 17, 2013

| AFP

Nelson Mandela's spirit of unity shined out Saturday in a rare sporting spectacle of South Africa's national football and rugby teams sharing the field to help fulfil the icon's dream.

Dubbed 'One Man One Nation Celebration', it was staged to raise funds for the construction of the Nelson Mandela's Children's Hospital, the icon's most cherished dream.

Mandela unveiled the idea of building a 200-bed southern African paediatric hospital over a decade ago, but the project has been stalled by lack of funding.

But the plans recently gained momentum as the ailing icon lay in hospital battling a respiratory illness.

The Saturday event at the 90,000-seater Soccer City Stadium in Soweto was the highlight of several fund raising initiatives that have taken place since the beginning of the year.

A sea of fans in gold and green football squad Bafana Bafana colours mingled with those in green rugby Springbok colours, blowing plastic horns popularly known as vuvuzelas amid a musical fest.

Malian superstar Salif Keita was among the musicians billed to entertain the crowd after the games.

The day kicked off with the a throwback match of South African football legends against Italian old-timers.

The South Africa side, featuring the likes of Lucas Radebe, who captained Leeds United, were edged 2-0 in an entertainment-filled display.

The game preceded a match between Burkina Faso's national squad the Stallions and Bafana Bafana. South Africa beat the west Africans 2-0.

But it was the match between the Springboks and Argentina that drew the most diverse crowd, some who have never set foot inside the calabash shaped stadium that hosted the 2010 Fifa World Cup opening match and the final.

"It's my first time here and I think I chose the right moment," said Ryan Smith, who came with his two sons.

"I came here to enjoy the rugby and have fun while supporting Mandela's dream. It's the least I can do to help realise his dream which will help improve the lives of the less fortunate," he said.

As a racially diverse country, rugby matches in South Africa often attract a predominantly white crowd, with football regarded as a mainly black sport.

"I like that today we are all here together, black and white. It's exactly like what Nelson Mandela dreamed of...a united South Africa," said Tshepo Mogale from Soweto township.

During intervals, messages urging the spectators to make donations were beamed on big screens.

People were asked to text the word "donate" to make a 20 rand ($2) donation.

Live music by local performers electrified the stadium, with the spectators often breaking out into "Nelson Mandela, there is non like you" - a song synonymous with celebrating the Nobel peace laureate

"The atmosphere is amazing, it's something that would definitely make Mandela happy," said Frederick Townsend, adding that "I came for both our national teams."

"It always feels good to do something for Madiba, as a medical doctor myself I would love to see the hospital built," he said referring to Mandela by his clan name.

The 200-bed state-of-the-art hospital, which is estimated to cost one billion rand ($99 million) would be built in Johannesburg.

Africa has only four children's hospitals -- two in Egypt, one in Kenya and a Red Cross hospital in Cape Town -- all built several decades ago.

South Africa's last apartheid president FW de Klerk and Mandela's successor Thabo Mbeki joined the crowds at the stadium.

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