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'Mandela created a future for SA cricket'

Till 1992 there was no thought about South Africa playing in the World Cup, but Mandela's words changed that immediately. Such was the power of Mandela

Ali Bacher
Nelson Mandela congratulates Mike Atherton, South Africa v England, 7th ODI, Port Elizabeth

During a home series in 1996, Nelson Mandela came in cricketing attire: long whites, cream shirt and a Proteas cricket blazer  •  Popperfoto/Getty Images

In August of 1991 I brought Clive Lloyd to South Africa for the first time to inspire the black kids, to tell them about his story and what he had achieved as a black cricketer. I wanted Lloyd to assist us with our development programme. Lloyd told me he wanted to meet Nelson Mandela. I phoned the late Steve Tshwete (a senior member of African National Congress and Minister of Sport in Mandela's government) and we saw Mandela the next day. That was the first time I had met him.
At that point we had been re-admitted into international cricket, but we were not going to the 1992 World Cup. There were a lot of journalists present during our meeting and one of them asked Mandela his views about South Africa playing in the World Cup. Mandela said: "Of course, we must play." That was it. The message went around the world of cricket and we went to Australia. Till then there was no thought within South African cricket as well as at the ICC about South Africa playing in the World Cup, but Mandela's words changed that immediately. Such was the power of Mandela.
He will go down in history as South Africa's greatest son and in all probability 20th century's greatest leader. I will never forget his first speech from Cape Town after he was released from prison in 1990. He said clearly that this is a country for all South Africans - not for white domination and not for black domination. He imbued that viewpoint throughout the '90s and the 21st century. And because of that his presidency between 1994 and 1999 will always be remembered for his greatness in reconciliation between whites and blacks.
During my interactions in person with Mandela, I was never nervous. He made the other person at ease. One reason probably was because his communication with people was amazing. During the 1999 World Cup we played Pakistan in one of the qualifying matches, a close encounter which South Africa won in the penultimate over of chase. It was a Saturday. Lance Klusener won that match batting brilliantly. I was in Johannesburg and I got a call from Mandela's personal assistant requesting Mandela wanted to call Klusener and congratulate him. I told the PA to inform Mandela that Klusener spoke fluent Zulu.
When I met Klusener recently, he reminded me Mandela had indeed called him and congratulated him in Zulu. That was Mandela's initiative, to get on the phone, find Klusener and convey his congratulations. This was the president of South Africa.
Mandela did not watch much cricket. In February 1993 we hosted a triangular series involving South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies. South Africa did not get to the final but Mandela came to watch Pakistan play West Indies. He told me that was the first time he had watched cricket match.
Mandela was a man who could be spontaneous. In a 1995-96 home series, South Africa were playing England at St George's Park. Mandela came in cricketing attire: long whites, cream shirt and a Proteas cricket blazer. It was absolutely extraordinary of him to come and give support to our cricket team. While we were watching from the president's box, my daughter called me and Mandela enquired who I was speaking to. He took the phone and spoke to my daughter. He was a people's man. And that is why people loved him. He could communicate with anyone from state presidents to little kids to groundstaff. At tea time I was admonished, quite rightly, by his secretarial staff, but I did not mind that.
Mandela was a man of immense stature and presence. Early on when he was released from prison he had the vision that the medium to bring white and rest of South Africans together was through sport. So for the very first time he came to the Wanderers cricket ground and Ellis Park rugby stadium in the early 1990s. He did that precisely because those two sports and grounds were dominated by whites. He wanted those sports to be truly represented by all the different people in the country.
His vision of using sport to bring whites and black together was firmly realised during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa when the togetherness, the unity, the camaraderie amongst all South Africans during and after our victory was unique and unprecedented for this country.
Nelson Mandela gave us inspiration. He created a future for South African cricket - for all its people.
Ali Bacher was former captain of South Africa and later was the managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa in the 1990s. He spoke to ESPNcricinfo's Nagraj Gollapudi.