As South Africa celebrates Freedom Day, the legendary Neil Tovey still beams with pride at having played such a prominent role for Bafana Bafana and for Kaizer Chiefs during such a landmark time in the country’s history.
According to the ‘Amakhosi’ and Bafana legend, the year 1994 and the advent of freedom and democracy made South Africa an “ecstatic and happy place” filled with all sorts of possibilities.
“It was a very exciting time, just prior to the Springboks winning the Rugby World Cup and us winning the African Cup of Nations. We were back in international sport and South African football clubs were starting to play in African continental football competition. We had so much to look forward to as a unified, democratic country,” said Tovey.
27 years ago, newly-elected democratic President Nelson Mandela, showed that sports had always been central to the psyche of the South African people as he left his inauguration celebrations on 10 May 1994 to attend Bafana Bafana’s celebratory international match against Zambia at Ellis Park Stadium.
“Madiba had over 250 dignitaries and visiting heads of state attending his inauguration, but he decided ‘no, no…I am going to watch a football match. It was an unbelievable day and memory, he became the first South African President to turn up at an international football match,” recalled Tovey.
“We were all caught by surprise and were only told at half time that Madiba would be at the match. We had no idea he was coming. But he was that kind of spontaneous man, he did things from the bottom of his heart. He was really special.
“Football always harmonized people and harmonized society. It gave the masses something to look forward to and to celebrate, even when times were really difficult. It has always been a tremendous catalyst to the country’s joy and happiness,” says Tovey.
And for Tovey, representing Kaizer Chiefs was always his biggest dream and it was one he realised in a golden decade with the black and gold.
“I had a beautiful decade of being part of such a big club and playing with unbelievable players. To have that opportunity and blessing was so pleasurable for me. I could not throw the opportunity away and made the very best of my time with the Amakhosi.
“The support from the fans was always unbelievable. If you showed intensity for the club and were inspired to strive for success week in and week out, the fans could see that and they love and enjoy you and you love and enjoy them in return,” added Tovey with rich emotion of his time at Kaizer Chiefs at such a special time in its young democracy.
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By FARPost Reporter