When Simpiwe Vetyeka pummelled WBA super-champion Chris John into submission in Perth two Friday nights back, he set off a hat-trick of huge South African sporting achievements that tied in with the passing of their icon, Nelson Mandela, who was buried yesterday.
This hat-trick of achievements were a fitting farewell to Mandela, who was a boxer of repute himself in his younger days.
Vetyeka, from the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, was the dark horse going into the fight.
He was up against an adversary nicknamed ‘Dragon’, who had been undefeated in 51 fights.
John was in fact bidding for the 19th defence of the WBA belt he won in 2004.
John took a hammering in the preceding five rounds and retired ahead of the seventh round after being knocked down in rounds five and six by Vetyeka.
In so doing, the unheralded Vetyeka – who was involved in his third world title fight after taking the IBO featherweight title from John’s countryman, Cino Daud in April – became the first boxer in Africa to unify world titles.
Vetyeka dedicated his win to Mandela saying, “This win is for my father Nelson Mandela and my country. We are here today all because of his sacrifices.”
Then, turning attention to cricket, the Proteas – after a magnificent 106 from young upstart opener Quinton De Kock and Hashim Amla (100) – took an unassailable 2-0 ODI series lead, beating India by 134 runs at Kingsmead, Durban two days later.
Only days before, the South Africans had thrashed the Indians by 141-runs at the Wanderers in the opening ODI.
De Kock once again starred with the bat in the first ODI, scoring 135 off 171 balls.
India, who enjoy bilateral relations with South Africa, announced a three-day period of mourning for Mandela, but were not spared any mercy on the cricket field.
Mandela shared the same kind of adulation in India with that country’s great luminary, Mahatma Ghandi. But that cordial relationship did not extend to the Wanderers and Kingsmead grounds.
The South Africans belted a rather placid-looking Indian attack to all parts of the ground; while the Indians in their turn at the crease in both games wilted under the fast bowling barrages of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Again, Nelson Mandela’s spirit was palpable over the ground.
The cricketing gods too were smiling on SA, in the sense that rain which was threatening kept away all day.
It was SA’s time to let sporting prowess make a statement at a time of deep sadness – when tears flowed the world over for the great humanist’s sad passing.
Mandela epitomised how sport could unify a nation – one thinks back immediately to the Boks’ 1995 World cup success.
His wearing of the Springbok jersery, holding the Webb Ellis cup aloft with captain Francois Pienaar next to him.
Sport had done its bit to unify a nation.
The final piece to the script was the Boks’ sevens win against the powerful New Zealand All Blacks in Port Elizabeth last weekend.
Aptly named the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, the Boks managed to gather collective strength to edge out the All Blacks in the final (17-14), after going down 14-0 in the first few minutes of the game.
However tries by Branco Du Preez and Kyle Brown, who admittedly slipped through weak tackles from a ruck, clinched the Bay sevens title for the Boks.
Again it seemed after the first few minutes the pressure of winning in the midst of all the outpouring of grief over Mandela was going to be a bridge too far for the Boks.
But the way the team came back in the dying minutes of the first half and then pinned the ABs in their side of the field for most of the second stanza, meant the old ‘Mandela Magic’ had played its hand.
It was a fitting end to the tournament for the fans, the team and the people of South Africa.
So these three sporting achievements were the ideal way to honour the man they called ‘Madiba’ in his homeland.
Mandela was more than a colossus. The man who said, “there can be no future without forgiveness”, who said, “Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand”.
He used his great humanist traits to unite people the world over.
Long may we reflect on his legacy.