Rugby legend leaves his mark in Soweto

Cape Town, South Africa (PANA) – Former South African rugby giant Joost van der Westhuizen has left his mark in Soweto two years after his death.

The former Springbok captain, who won the Rugby World Cup final in 1995, lost his battle with motor neuron disease (MND) but his legacy lives on with the opening of the Van der Westhuizen's neurodegeneration centre at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on Friday. The hospital is the biggest medical facility in the southern hemisphere.

"This is such a big honour for us," his brother Pieter said at the opening ceremony. Provincial Health Minister Gwen Ramokgopa and Sports Minister Faith Mazibuko were both present.

The former Springbok, who was diagnosed with the illness in 2011, drew worldwide attention to the brutal disease for which there is no cure.

Ironically, van der Westhuizen’s biggest rival on the field, New Zealand’s giant wing Jonah Lomu, the game's first global superstar, died shortly before him at the age of 40.

The explosive 120 kg winger (who ran the 100 metres in 10.8 seconds) succumbed to a kidney disease that ended his playing career.  Lomu made his mark at the 1995 Rugby World Cup where he was the leading World Cup try scorer in the tournament's history with 15 tries.

In the build up to the New Zealand versus South Africa final, the host nation grappled with how to tame the man who carried the hopes of the mighty All Blacks.

All of South Africa drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela who threw his formidable weight behind the Springboks who managed to contain Lomu for the first time before running out narrow 15-12 winners.

Mandela who attended the match and famously wore the green jersey which had once been a powerful symbol of apartheid-era South Africa was hailed around the world for his gesture.

Following Lomu’s death, van der Westhuizen paid an emotional tribute. “Difficult to write with eyes full of tears. Thank you for EVERYTHING Jonah. RIP my dear friend," van der Westhuizen posted on his Twitter account.
-0- PANA CU/MA 7July2018

07 july 2018 06:24:14

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