As I process Mandela's death and this time of mourning, I can still summon every emotion I felt and recall every moment as he rode around the sold-out stadium on a golf cart, letting his people know that despite his own personal loss -- during such a celebratory time across the country -- he would always be theirs and always be there for them.
I'm not sure another world leader has ever had a relationship as special and spiritual as the one Mandela shares with the people of South Africa. That's been clear forever, and it certainly was on display that night.
I can still hear their cheers, the annoying buzz of the vuvuzelas and the chants of "Madiba" -- Mandela's clan name.
I still remember standing on numb feet, applauding with a choked throat as Mandela waved to the crowd, and his smile provided an even brighter light in the frigid air. My emotion wasn't that of sadness, but appreciation.
My heart still is full with the knowledge that if it weren't for Mandela's service and actions, we would be missing a prominent example of dignity, compassion and sacrifice.
I also feel guilty for a morbid thought I had that night. Mandela was 91 years old at the time and I couldn't help wondering: How much longer would we be able to see Mandela like this? How much time did we have left with him?
The real answer was that we never had enough time with Mandela. But that doesn't mean he won't always be a part of all of us.
-- Jemele Hill
Conflict routinely roiled South Africa until Nelson Mandela emerged as the voice of calm. He coaxed reconciliation, embraced forgiveness, refusing to be consumed by bitterness. He was an optimist, even after being imprisoned for 27 years for the "crime" of pushing to bring about social change in his native country.
He knew what moved his people and sought to unite a country paralyzed by deep racial tensions.
Mandela was not an avid rugby fan. In fact, he would confess years later, he wasn't entirely sure of all the rules. But one thing he did know: The rugby team was a polarizing entity, a symptom of what divided his country down to its very core.
The Rugby World Cup had been established in 1987, but South Africa's entry, the Springboks, did not compete in the inaugural competition or in the 1991 Cup because of anti-apartheid boycotts. The team's brilliant green-and-gold jerseys (not to mention its nearly all-white roster) represented everything the black population of South Africa despised.
In 1995, one year after he was named the first black president of South Africa, Mandela attended a Springboks match. As a former amateur boxer, he appreciated the spirit of competition and the camaraderie that developed among teammates, coaches and their fans.
Yet, as Mandela glanced around the stadium, he noticed that most of the patrons where white, while the few black spectators were hemmed into their own, separate area, cheering vociferously against their own country.
This, Mandela knew, had to change. South Africa was the host of the Cup later that year, and he wanted his country to be a harmonious presence on the national sports stage.