I first visited South Africa in 1983, when Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United went to Africa to play three games in Swaziland, we were not allowed to play in South Africa at the time due to the sanctions that were imposed on the Apartheid government.
We stayed at the Royal Swazi Hotel and we had a most wonderful time, the final of the Royal Swazi Hotel tournament pitched Spurs against Manchester United for the second time in the competition. Spurs won 2-0 and as each team had won two matches, a penalty shoot-out decided the destination of the trophy, with Spurs converting penalties from Alan Brazil, Paul Price and Steve Perryman, while Ray Clemence stopped four penalties from the Red Devils, leaving Tottenham 3-2 winners from the spot-kicks.
We then joined forces and played a combined Spurs and United team against the Swaziland National team, we ran out 6-1 winners with yours truly scoring one of the goals.
During this visit to Swaziland I went on my first ever Safari, we went from Swaziland, across the border into South Africa and entered the Kruger Park at the Crocodile Bridge Gate entrance, the day that I spent in the Kruger Park was memorable and from that moment Africa has been in my soul.
The beauty, the peace of being in the animals kingdom, (the animals do not care whether you are a prince or a peasant), the sounds of the bush, the sunrise and sunset’s with the solitude only being broken by the calls of the animals and the birds.
I love this poem by Wayne Visser:
“I am an African
Not because I was born there
But because my heart beats with Africa’s
I am an African
Not because my skin is black
But because my mind is engaged by Africa
I am an African
Not because I live on its soil
But because my soul is at home in Africa.”
Whenever you leave Africa the longing to return pulls at you, like all countries South Africa has it’s issues, but these have to be overcome, when Nelson Mandela (who I had the real honour to meet a number of times) was released from Prison, it would have been very understandable for him to want revenge for his 27 years of incarceration, but all Mandela wanted was to unite the country, he wanted peace and reconciliation for the people of his country, no matter what their race, colour or creed.
All the people of South Africa must heed and continue to respect Madiba’s wishes, a charge of treason should be made against anyone who goes against Mandela’s wishes and dreams for all the people of South Africa.
Madiba wrote a famous quote when the Apartheid system was abolished.
“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign, God Bless Africa.”
South Africa is advertised as ‘A World In One Country’ and it really does capture the diversity of the beauty that the country has, Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula, The Winelands, The Garden Route, Johannesburg, The Kruger National Park, Durban Beachfront, Robben Island, The Wild Coast, Soweto, The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and many more, including the bright lights and the stunning, beautiful and luxury of Sun City. The Palace Hotel is one of the best hotels that I have ever stayed in.
The Dolphin coast north of Durban, (so called because of the bottlenose dolphins that frolic in the waves all year-round) is breathtaking, my wife’s family are South African and they have family holiday homes on the Wild Coast at San Lameer and property at Blythedale (see www.elan.co.za) eLan launched the Blythedale development on Wednesday 28th October last year, Blythedale is one of Mother Nature’s most picturesque creations, with three kilometres of unblemished Ocean frontage, serene forests and awe inspiring rivers and estuaries that allow you to reconnect with the beauty of this world that we live in, Mother Nature’s stature was upgraded to ‘Dame Nature’ when she awoke everything that is good within us, with her natural beauty at Blythedale.
I have spoken a lot, about my love for Africa, I was an Ambassador for South Africa in their bid to be the first country on the African continent to host the World Cup in 2010, it was an exciting journey culminating in FIFA declaring the South Africa World Cup as the most successful and the most secure World Cup in history, after my role as an Ambassador for South Africa the then President Thabo Mbeki, spoke to me took my hand and declared me an honorary South African, something I am very proud of.
During my years as an Ambassador for the World Cup, I got to meet one of the most incredible gentleman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, on one occasion the British High Commissioner Ann Grant, was hosting an evening for the Tottenham Hotspur Football team in Cape Town, I arrived early and I was talking to the Archbishop, as I had to introduce the Archbishop to the then Spurs manager Glenn Hoddle and the team captain Jamie Redknapp, I asked the Archbishop how he would like me to address him, he looked at me and said “Gary call me the Arch” I smiled and when I made the introductions, I said to him, this is the Tottenham Hotspur team manager Glenn Hoddle and the team captain Jamie Redknapp, Glenn and Jamie this is the ‘Arch’ if only I had captured the look on their faces !!!!
Having Africa in my soul is very rewarding, but I have to make one thing very clear, I am an Englishman first and foremost, I love my country and I am very proud to have represented my country at International football on 42 occasions, standing at Wembley singing ‘God Save the Queen’ just before International matches, is an incredible feeling, and made me extremely proud.
I was at the eLan Launch of the Blythedale resort and I met a lovely gentleman and poet called John Armstrong, John wrote the following amazing poem called ‘I am an Englishman’.
”Who am I, Who am I,
I am the dust of the glorious dead that will not settle,
I am a triumphal echo born of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt
Where my enemies knew too well my mettle,
I am the pull on the yew bending longbow
The victory roll on Drake’s defiant drum,
The divine wind that blew the Armada through the channel
And onwards then to kingdom come,
I am the powder and the shot
Of brave Horatio’s bold broadside,
That dispatched his foe homeward bound
As flotsam on the returning Trafalgar tide,
I am the sorrow of battle won
On the blood soaked field at Waterloo,
I am the bugle call for the valiant fallen
That never made it through,
I am the sunlight on the six hundred sabres
Charging through the valley to open up deaths door,
I am the ghostly jingle of bit and bridle
From a broken brigade that rides on for evermore,
My Father’s Father took a bullet at the slaughter that was passchendaele
Yet denying his wounds lived on to fight again,
My Father stood fast with the Durham’s and held the line
Before the guns rolled back from Sedjenaine,
My standard is the bloodied cross of Christ
To which my patron saint did give his name,
It denotes a way, of truth, and of liberty
Of which no other can proclaim,
The world speaks my language,
And it is set in stone,
I serve my Queen and Country
With every loyal ounce of flesh and bone,
I am the thin red line that will not yield
I am that far off corner of a foreign field
I am an Englishman!”
I will add that I also know every word of the South African national anthem ‘Nkosi Sikelel iafrika’ and singing the anthem at the World Cup Final in 2010 after we had delivered a memorable World Cup, to a global audience, gave me goose bumps.
‘Rule Britannia’ and Nkosi Sikelel iafrika
Photos that I took in the Kruger National Park.