When I moved to South Africa last year, I had a vague understanding of the role Nelson Mandela played in ending apartheid and reinventing this country. (Nelson Mandela is often referred to as Madiba, which is his clan name. It took me a while to figure out why people are always calling him that.)

It also took a while for me to comprehend the magnitude of Madiba’s impact on the South African people, and on the consciousness and spirit of this country. I’ve been trying to think of a historical figure who has had a comparable impact in the United States. There isn’t one.

Two years ago, when Madiba turned 91, his birthday was officially coined Mandela Day — a day to honor Nelson Mandela and perpetuate his legacy worldwide. Mandela Day is tomorrow, 18 July, but the country has been celebrating all weekend. Mandela Day is a big deal around here.

Joe and I went to a couple of Mandela Day activities this weekend, but today’s event was particularly timely. We attended a Mandela Day soccer tournament in Hillbrow, which happened to fall on the same day that the U.S. takes on Japan in the Women’s Soccer World Cup final. Perfect tie-in!

Two recreational soccer teams compete in the finals of a Mandela Day soccer tournament sponsored by Hillbrow’s Ekhaya Neighborhood Association. This field, like another field adjacent to it that I photographed on my first visit to Hillbrow, was built before the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

(By the way, I was surprised to learn that you can watch the World Cup final live online, on a site called From Sport. Seems too good to be true but it actually works, albeit with some stopping and starting. I’m watching and listening as I write this.)

Mandela Day is about making a difference in your community, and the tournament fit that theme perfectly. The stands were filled with enthusiastic fans, primarily kids. The teams, made up mostly of young men living in buildings around Hillbrow, were competitive and sportsmanlike. Volunteers provided medals and equipment for the competitors and snacks and drinks for the fans.

Nice save.

Soccer-themed cupcakes in South Africa’s colors were handed out to all the fans before the final match began. 

Yum.

The cupcakes were so pretty — I told the guy distributing them that I wanted to photograph one on the field. After the photo session, the cupcake disappeared into my stomach.

Several dignitaries, including a former member of South Africa’s national soccer team, spoke about the meaning of Mandela Day. The crowd sang along to South Africa’s national anthem and Madiba’s birthday song. Up-tempo music played as the teams competed. Toddlers kicked soccer balls on the sidelines. A good time was had by all.

Soccer stars of tomorrow watch the tournament awards ceremony.

Stay tuned for more about Mandela Day weekend in my next post.

PS: Joe and I had to give up on the stoppy-starty Women’s World Cup internet broadcast. Too frustrating to watch. Good luck, USA! I’ll catch the result tomorrow morning.

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