Thousands of football-lovers descended on the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria for the first of two Nelson Mandela Football Invitational matches on Sunday.
Before kickoff, the crowd sang “happy birthday Tata” in celebration of Madiba’s oncoming birthday.
The anti-apartheid icon turns 95 on July 18.
The 2011/12 English Premiership champions Manchester United will wrap up their South African tour with another match against Amazulu at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, on Madiba’s birthday.
The funds generated from both fixtures will go towards the refurbishment of 10 schools in Madiba’s birth town of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.
Though almost half the seats were empty, the divided crowd cheered on as the game progressed.
Many people in the crowd were wearing City jerseys. Some wore branded regalia of other English Premiership clubs.
Other were wearing Kaizer Chiefs jerseys.
Madiba was hospitalised on June 8 at the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria for a recurring lung infection.
On Sunday, numerous well-wishers visited Madiba’s hospital.
Spruitview resident Vusumzi Makalima brought his four children to the hospital to teach them about Mandela.
“The kids wanted to know where Madiba was… what he did, and why he was in prison,” he said.
“I wanted to teach them about what he did for the country, and show them where he was hospitalised.” He said the visit was about teaching Mandela’s legacy to his children so they would not forget.
His children had written letters for Mandela, which they placed on a growing wall of well-wishes outside the hospital.
Ovayo Makalima, 9, said she wanted to wish Madiba well.
“I said in the message – we love you Madiba and get well soon.” Her older sister Thandiswa Makalima said: “I think he’s a great man and very kind. All of South Africa loves him.” Another Johannesburg resident visited to be a part of history.
“This will go down in the history books and I wanted to be a part of history,” said Joel Mdantshe.
“Mandela will be a man in the history books that will not be forgotten.” Mdantshe and his friends posed for pictures at the shrine and said they would keep the pictures safe to remember that they visited the hospital where Mandela was.
“Even if we can’t see him, we will remember that we were here, so close to him, just the building standing between us and Tata,” said Mdantshe.
Sunday marked Mandela’s 37th day in hospital.
The Presidency said last week that he remained in a critical but stable condition. – Sapa