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Forget the score, Mandela was the winner
Over the moon! Guardian reporter Gary Younge witnesses South Africa beating Zambia at football and finds there really is a place for politics in sport
Forget the score, Mandela was the winner
Forget the score, Mandela was the winner

LONG with the whiff and of roasted sweet-corn and fried meats you could also smell the excitement outside the Ellis Park stadium on Tuesday.

The fact that South Africa, currently among the also-rans of African football, were playing one of the continent's giants, Africa Nations Cup finalists Zambia, was partly responsible. South Africa were buoyed by their win 1-0 win against Zimbabwe two weeks ago. And the Zambians, who lost their entire squad in a plane crash off the coast of Gabon just over a year ago, had left two of their best players out of the squad.

But more importantly, the match wag in commemoration of President Nelson Mandela's inauguration, and whatever the score he was always going to be the real winner. By the time of the kick-off at 4pm many of the crowd had been in the stadium five hours.

When Mandela made his appearance at half-time, they rose to their feet and raised their fists. Firecrackers banged, ANC flags were waved alongside those of the new South Africa and everybody cheered while toyi-toyiing on the spot. It was not so much a Mexican wave as an African cyclone, sweeping along with everyone and everything that lay in its path.

In the end South Africa won 2-1, proving that their win against Zimbabwe was not the fluke that sports commentators had claimed it was. But the match was really a sideshow -- a friendly in every sense of the word, and all in all a bad day for those apologists of apartheid who once claimed that there was no place for politics in sport.

South Africa had chosen Zambia as their opponents because of the support the Zambian government had given the ANC during the apartheid years. And on the terraces there was no peevish questioning of the referee's sexual orientation every time a decision did not go the home team's way, and no howling for the manager's resignation whenever the spectators' side lost the ball.

Instead, the chants were for Umkhonto weSizwe, for the late ANC leader Oliver Tambo, for the murdered Communist Party leader Chris Hani and, above all, for the country's new president, Nelson Mandela. And on all those counts the Zambian supporters were more than happy to cheer along with the South African fans.

When Mandela arrived, flanked by the Zambian president, Frederick Chiluba, he made a small speech praising new minister of sport and recreation, Steve Tshwete. Then the crowd fell silent, awaiting South Africa's two national anthems. They sang Nkosi Sikelele i' Africa and then remained standing for Die Stem.

Mandela thanked them for doing so, but urged them to go further. "We must get into the habit of learning both of our national anthems in Xhosa and in Afrikaans," he told a stunned and mostly unimpressed audience. "And those who do not know Xhosa or Zulu must learn those languages as well," he added, this time to applause.

When the new president left the score was 0-0 But South Africa were to go two up early in the second half, through Brendan Augustine and man of the match Doctor Khumalo, before Zambia snatched one back, scored by Linos Makwaza