Africa remembers special bond with Pelé, the greatest athlete in history


The African daily newspapers are virtually unanimous in celebrating the talent and generosity of the late Pelé.

The surprisingly muted South African press response to the news of Pelé's death may be due to the thinness of editorial teams over the holiday period.

You'll look hard at this morning's front pages for any mention of the great man. Even on the sports pages, the choice is either nothing at all or straight reprints of off-the-peg news agency tributes.

The Durban-based Daily News is an honourable exception.

In a piece headlined "Football icon Pelé had a special relationship with South Africa", Daily News journalist Eshlin Vedan remembers the shocking incident in the 1960s when the apartheid-era police refused to allow Pelé leave Johannesburg airport. Stunned by the treatment, Pelé vowed not to return to South Africa until Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

After Mandela's election as the first democratic president of South Africa, the two men met and became firm friends.

Mandela said of the footballer that watching him play was like watching "the delight of a child combined with the extraordinary grace of a man in full".

When Mandela passed away, the Brazilian genius said he was "my friend and my idol".

"He was my companion in the struggle for the popular cause and for world peace," Pelé said. "Let us carry on his work. He was one of the most influential people in my life."

'The world is a poorer place'

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