Former Lone Star midfield maestro, Kelvin Sebwe, said the handshakes with Mandela in January 1996 might have inspired them to win a game in South Africa.
On the 16th of January 1996, Liberia defeated Gabon, 2-1 at the Kings Park Stadium in Durban. The retired penalty shooter and ball-distributor, converted the first goal in the 5th minute through a lottery shot and another player who also shook hands with Mandela, Mark Sarr, Jr., netted the winning goal, in the 54th minute.
Sebwe, 41, told our reporter Wednesday, December 11 in an exclusive interview, that seeing Mandela on the afternoon was a “privilege, honor and fated.”
He said, the pleasure to meet the former First Black South Africa’s President and anti-apartheid freedom fighter, was owing to his demand to see yet African ‘FIFA World Best Footballer.’
“We woke up one day while thinking of warm-up, we were greeted by some security officers from Mandela requesting the presence of George Weah – it was a humble event, but scary,” Sebwe said.
He added: “Only four of the players accompanied George Weah, maybe because of fear (he laughs) — it was me, George Weah, Mark Sarr, Jr., and Joe Nagbe. Willie Russell and our supporters, our friends also went. Interestingly, the President of CAF, Issa Hayatou was there, too.”
Kelvin, dressed in a khaki suit, said they were humbled to be in the presence of the late Nelson Mandela, the formidable and tireless champion of human rights, who struggled to address inequality and indignity wherever he found them. Be it in his own country or beyond South Africa’s borders.
“He warmly welcomed us and shook everybody’s hands. The roughness in his palm, would tell us of the 27 years of hard labor in prison.”
He added: “His granddaughter was there to project our voices to him, so that he will hear and understand us. We enjoyed his hospitality.
Prior to their departure, Kelvin said, Weah affixed his autograph on one of AC Milan’s number-14 jerseys, the Italian team he (Weah) was playing for when he won the FIFA World Player of the Year, and when they got to Mr. Mandela’s place, he (Weah) handed it to him.
“He received it with a humble spirit; prior to that, he had given Weah many pieces of advice and it was great seen both of them together,” Kelvin said.
He added: “It is with deep sadness that I learned of the death of former South African President and an inspiration. The world has lost a true statesman, a leader and a pragmatic visionary.”
Meanwhile, Africa’s football legend George M. Weah described Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba Mandela, as a fallen tower that Africa and the world cannot easily rebuild, given his unrelenting fight for social justice.
The 1995 FIFA Best Player and former skipper of the Lone Star of Liberia said he was humbled to meet the former South Africa President in 1996, two years after his election as South Africa’s President.
“He welcomed me warmly and jokingly cautioned me not to be intimidated by his presence. That’s the kind of person he was…he was a soft, gentle, loving, caring and a kind, fatherly figure,” Amb. Weah intoned.
He also revealed that when he was appointed as Peace Ambassador, the late Nelson Mandela’s advice contributed to his acceptance of the challenge.
“Mr. Mandela encouraged me to see the appointment as both an opportunity and a public service to my country and its people,” Amb. Weah explained.
“I will always cherish his memories and friendship…farewell Baba, Madiba, Tata, Nelson Rolihlahla. May our ancestors accompany you through you journey home…may the angels open wide the gates of Heaven for you and the Good Lord, God the Most High, receive you with gladness,” he petitioned.