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Mandela's 'hero' Radebe hails leader

Radebe – who was also skipper of Leeds United during an 11-year stint at the Yorkshire club – was shot in South Africa as a 22-year-old but survived as a bullet went through his back and out his thigh.

He went on to enjoy an outstanding career for both club and country, leading the latter to the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cup tournaments.

For this, Mandela described the footballer as "my hero" and the revolutionary's tragic passing has brought great sadness to his close friend Radebe.

"There is much I want to say to you, and regret I will no longer have the chance. Having said that, I feel privileged to have known you, and to have benefited from your wisdom and example," Radebe posted in an open letter on his official website.

"You taught me lessons of leadership, humility, generosity, courage and integrity. To say that you inspired me and my generation, would be an understatement.

"My career would not have been possible but for you. The chance of playing at the highest level in football outside of South Africa did not exist before your release from prison.

"When times were tough in my early days in Leeds, away from South Africa, I drew motivation from your courage and tenacity.

"When captaining teams, whether Bafana Bafana or Leeds United, you were my role model for leadership. Your ability to bring people together for a common cause, despite their differences, was a great gift.

"I think I speak for every player who pulled on a Bafana Bafana (football), Springbok (rugby) or Protea (cricket) jersey, and any other South African sportsperson, when I say that we never ever played just for ourselves or even our country. We played for you and the special ideals that you stood for.

"You taught me how sport could be an indomitable force for social change, and how it could impact individuals, communities and nations.

"I was so proud to welcome you to Leeds, my home away from home, and I know the pride you felt in my accomplishments. It was so humbling.

"You will never know how much that visit meant to (Radebe's now-deceased wife) Feziwe and me. It was a day that will forever be etched in my mind. I always felt special that you had your own name for me, 'Mthimkhulu'.

"The sports history books in South Africa will show statistics and victories. What they won't show, however, was that it was Madiba Magic that forged those results and performances; and united a country and its people along the way. No doubt, that Madiba Magic will live on. Thank you 'Tata'."