Madiba, SA's 'spiritual coach'
Watch Bok captains Francois Pienaar and Jean de Villiers thank Madiba for saving the Springbok.
Cape Town - Former president Nelson Mandela was a "spiritual coach and captain" to sportsmen and women, former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar said in Cape Town on Wednesday.
Loud cheers erupted at the Cape Town stadium memorial event when Pienaar made his appearance.
"In 1967 I was born into apartheid... 27 years later, as the fortunate leader of the Springboks, I had the opportunity to meet the father of the nation. My life changed forever," he said.
Pienaar spoke about the ability sport had to bring change to people's lives, and recalled how Mandela had recognised this.
"Armed with these lessons, Madiba urged his comrades to keep the Springbok emblem," he said of the symbol which to many represented a divided sporting community.
"We became one team, playing to one country," Pienaar said, prompting more loud cheers from the over 50 000 crowd.
Speaking of the Springboks' 1995 rugby world cup victory, he said: "For the first time we were world champions together."
Pienaar conveyed condolences to the Mandela family on behalf of the sporting fraternity.
Earlier, tears and cheers filled the stadium when a swelling crowd sang the national anthem and thousands of people waved the national flag.
The city's official memorial, titled "Nelson Mandela: a life celebrated", was expected to draw 53 000 people and the stadium was three-quarters full by 17:00.
A variety of musical acts was planned for the evening, including Scottish singer and philanthropist Annie Lennox and local bands Freshlyground and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Popular local hits such as "Jabulani" and "Asimbonanga" bounced off the stadium's walls as the crowd responded to artists' calls to raise their voices.
A notice was flashed on a screen informing deaf concert-goers of a special room where speeches would be interpreted.
Mandela's face smiled down from several large television screens above the masses.
Athlone resident Bernadette Simpson said Mandela's loss had been as painful for her as the loss of her father four years ago.
She had drawn political inspiration from him when she was a student leader in Bridgetown, Athlone, in the 80s.
As an 18-year-old matric pupil at the time, the police had falsely arrested her for burning a bus, and she had spent two days in jail before the case was withdrawn.
"I know what it's like a little bit to be sitting in a van, looking out of that window and seeing everybody free," she said.
"I noticed people go to work and you have to sit in this prison, not that you did anything, but just for what you believe in."
Simpson said she had been treated as a criminal and did not eat or drink during her time in custody because she was suspicious of the police.
"Psychologically and emotionally I was prepared to die, because that is just how it was going to be."