Hezekiel Sepeng, Olympic silver medallist and the first black South African to win an Olympic medal (800 metres) since the lifting of international sporting sanctions, today shares his thoughts of Madiba with Road to Rio 2016’s Mark Etheridge.
“When growing up in the rural areas I never imagined myself meeting Madiba and it was only after I left the farm for the township high school that I first started hearing about Madiba.
“But I still didn’t understand why people would fight for him and others were ready to die him. I then joined the struggle and started to understand the reason why people were fighting. I remember all the marches on the streets, the singing and praising of Nelson Mandela and we weren’t able to train. I still didn’t understand how somebody can be that big a person and how people would do anything for him.
“In 1992 when Madiba was released I’ve never felt so relieved as when the opportunity came for me and my friends to go to Potchefstroom Boy’s High School. At that time it was a Model C school.
“My day with Madiba came after the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta when all the medallists were invited to Madiba’s house just before we toured Johannesburg.
“While in Atlanta I received lots of letter from friends and families and while I was going through my faxes I saw a letter from the President of South Africa, Mr Nelson Mandela! I couldn’t believe it and I put all the letters aside and focused on the letter from my President. He said that I inspired the youth of South Africa, by winning that silver medal.
“I became the first black South African to win an Olympic medal and it was an historic occasion for me. I remember saying to myself that Madiba was the first black president and I was the first black athlete to win an Olympic medal.
“I always believed that Presidents wouldn’t have time for sports, especially athletics, but I was wrong. Madiba could tell me everything about my race, how I got boxed in and then my kick in the last 100mÔÇª and he also told me that the nation is proud of me.
“We travelled together to Athens for an Olympic Truce event and I was honoured again by being on stage with Madiba as I was reading the Olympic Truce in front of him.
“For me the struggle goes on. I will keep on with my goal of giving hope to the new generation through my life story.
“Thanks Tata. Surely the Madiba magic will remain with us and I will walk tall and keep on inspiring the youth of South Africa to become better citizens of our beloved country.”