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Mandela legend puts long road to Ashes cricket glory in perspective

It’s been impossible to avoid seeing images of Nelson Mandela these past few days. How different it was when I was living and working in Johannesburg during the apartheid era — in the early 1970s.

South African newspapers were banned from publishing photos of the charismatic freedom fighter – by then already a long-time resident at the notorious Robben Island jail, off Cape Town. To even mention Mandela’s name back then was to run the risk of facing a stint behind bars yourself.

Of all the memories that have come flooding back from my time as a sports writer on Johannesburg’s The Star newspaper, one has particular resonance as it involved an assignment in the squalid black township of Soweto.

The only white journalist covering the All Africa Games (make that All Black) at Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, I’d had to go through a few hoops to get there. Just as “non-whites” required passes to access “white” areas, the reverse applied to whites.

Somehow, given what we’ve witnessed on the cricket front — with the Aussies seemingly nearing the end of a long road back to Ashes glory — the death of South Africa’s first black president has tended to put a few things in perspective.

If you can manage a bit of reading in between Tests these holidays, I’d seriously recommend that once faceless man’s autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom.

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While I’m adopting something of a “left-field” approach to this week’s blog, permit me to put in a plug for one of the most exciting young musical acts I’ve seen in a long time.

As it happens, there is a tenuous sporting link – in that I was introduced to a dynamic all-female Bundaberg strings quartet, Quatro, at a Brisbane bowls club.

If music appeals to you more than reading, you may just like to check them out:

— Peter Thomson


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