Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula,
Acting Premier of Gauteng Ms Qedane Mahlangu,
Family and friends of Steve Madi Mokone,
Fellow South Africans,
We gather here today as a nation to pay our respects to South Africa’s premier global football ambassador – Steven Madi Mokone.
Steve Mokone got the nickname ‘Kalamazoo’ from a timeless classic by Glen Miller.
It is perhaps fitting that the name should have stuck, because he was a consummate artist, who entertained and amazed in equal measure.
Though he has now departed our world, we remain inspired by the song, the wonder and the magic that was Kalamazoo.
Today, we are paying tribute not only to a legendary footballer, but to a person who struggled to break free of the chains of discrimination and oppression.
From its introduction in South Africa in the early 1860s, soccer was a racially segregated sport.
So committed were the colonial and apartheid masters to segregation that they would not allow people of different races to take to the same field of play.
In 1956, the Nationalist Minister of the Interior, Dr T Eben Dönges, declared that: “no mixed sport would be allowed within the borders of South Africa, that no mixed teams would compete abroad; that international teams competing in South Africa against white South African teams must themselves be all white.”
Yet no amount of evil, backward laws would stand between Steve Mokone, his love for football and his people.
On the eve of his departure to Europe, he was approached by prominent ANC figures, Dr Willie Nkomo and Dr Peter Tsele.
They told him that every goal he scored would be a step closer to his people's liberation.
History would have it that this South African trailblazer would become a global football icon acclaimed by nations across the world.
Described as the Maserati of world football, Mokone developed his love for the game in the dusty streets of Sophiatown. He honed his skills in Atteridgeville.
With a keen tennis player for a mother and a cricketer for a father, Mokone was destined to be a sportsperson.
But it was his own passion, his own determination, his own relentless hard work that led him to achieve greatness.
At the age of 16, he was the youngest player to ever represent South Africa when he was selected to the South African Blacks.
He was the first black professional player from South Africa to play in England, when he joined Coventry City in 1955. He went on to play in Holland, Spain, France and Italy, becoming a truly international footballer.
He paved the way for many other talented black soccer stars to play abroad.
He gave them the confidence to match their skills against the best in the world.
He inspired countless young people to reach for goals far greater than what they first imagined possible.
Yet, Kalamazoo’s influence extended beyond the sports field.
In the United States, where he later settled, he worked for the American Committee on Africa in the 1968 Olympic boycott movement.
It was for his contribution to the development of non-racial sport, that he was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Gold.
He appreciated the value and potential of sport to build a better society.
He would have understood what our former President Nelson Mandela was speaking about when he said:
"Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers."
Kalamazoo left the country in 1955, just a few months after our people adopted the Freedom Charter.
It was in this seminal document that our people said: “The colour bar in cultural life, in sport and in education shall be abolished.”
Kalamazoo passed away in the year that we commemorate 60 years of the Freedom Charter.
We can say with confidence that we have made great progress in realising that vision.
It is significant that Mokone lauded our National Sport and Recreation Plan because it identified school sport as the bedrock for the growth and development of young talent.
Our sports policy encourages sportsmen and women to develop their sporting prowess alongside academic progress.
Steve Mokone did exactly that. He obtained two doctorates, one in International Politics and one in Psychology.
As the country debates how best to reflect our history and our values in our public spaces, we welcome plans to install a bust of Steve Mokone at this stadium.
We want to see our nation’s heroes occupying the stone pedestals of this land.
We want to see statues of those people whose values we all share and whose achievements we all admire.
The bust of Steve Mokone will be unveiled at an appropriate time when our national team Bafana Bafana will be playing at the stadium.
As a country, we extend our deep gratitude to Mrs Mokone for her willingness to honour her husband's wish to be returned to Africa.
His ashes will now be interred at this stadium.
May his spirit live on.
May it inspire our people to abolish the colour bar in all its remaining forms and manifestations.
May it inspire our youth to reach for greatness.
I thank you.