Els leads tributes to Nelson Mandela at Sun City

12/6/2013 5:49:45 AM
Ernie Els and Nelson Mandela at the 1996 South African PGA Championship   (Getty Images)
Ernie Els and Nelson Mandela at the 1996 South African PGA Championship (Getty Images)

Ernie Els led the tributes to former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Nedbank Golf Challenge ahead of the resumption of round one at Sun City.

Before play restarted at 07:30 local time at the Gary Player Country Club, there was a minute’s silence as a mark of respect to Mr Mandela, one of modern history’s most influential and remarkable men who has become a symbol for the good of mankind, an inspiration to billions around the world whose legacy will never be forgotten.

An emotional Els spoke of his personal recollections of the great man, as well as summing up the feelings of so many people around the world.

“It is a very sad day,” said Els. “A very sad day for South Africa and the world really. We have lost one of the iconic leaders of our time. You cannot say anything bad about the man. He fought for what he believed in, went to prison for so many years and came out to lead our country up until now.

“He was the father of our country and our continent. It’s just very sad that he had to go. He was 95 and led a full life but a lot of that wasn’t spent on what he was so good at because he was away for so many years.

“I met him for the first time in 1994 with Mr (Johann) Rupert when we had a dinner together and then after that we stayed in touch. I used to play that tournament at Houghton and his home was very close to Houghton Golf Club. He came over one time and we exchanged gifts with each other. I have still got the picture from that day in 1996 in my office in the US. And then every time I won a tournament he used to call me.

“I remember flying to London on one occasion. We were sitting up front and then Mr Mandela came onto the plane last. He was sitting in the front seat and he saw me and my daughter sitting next to me and all of a sudden he didn’t really want to see me anymore – he wanted to talk to my daughter.

“He got Samantha to go up there and she sat on his lap and he spoke to her like she was his grandchild. They were special times and the little time we had together was very special. He was just the most amazing person I have ever met.

“Today will be tough. He was our President and the man who changed our lives. It could have been so different in South Africa but he kept his head and kept everyone going forward. I was in the Air Force when the ANC was banned. I remember those days in the 1980s when the Government was against the ANC. You know, they were our enemies.

“And then President Mandela comes in and takes over the country and leads it in a democratic way. He was an unbelievable guy and the guys who lived in that generation will really miss him.”