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South Africa to return to routine after Mandela funeral

A boy wears a mask of former South African President Nelson Mandela outside his house along Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where Mandela resided
A boy wears a mask of former South African President Nelson Mandela outside his house along Vilakazi Street in Soweto, where Mandela resided

By Mark Gleeson

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Sport in South Africa is set to return to normal on Monday after the funeral of Nelson Mandela with the much-anticipated cricket series against India and an end to the first half of the domestic soccer season dominating a busy pre-Christmas period.

Memorials over the last week for the former South African president, plus wet somber weather, necessitated change in schedules, but no one seemed to mind.

"We understand that one of the most iconic figures in the world must be remembered," said German-born coach Ernst Middendorp, whose Bloemfontein Celtic team saw their fixtures for the rest of the year change as the South African Premier Soccer League adjusted their schedule.

They did go ahead with last weekend's League Cup final, just over 48 hours after Mandela's death, but once plans for his funeral and various memorial services at stadiums around the country were announced, all fixtures were canceled - at a busy juncture of the season.

In the immediate aftermath of Mandela's death on December 5, golf, cricket and football events continued, including the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City.

The last seven days have been a somber period for sport, as much for the mourning of Mandela as for the inclement weather that has wreaked havoc.

The week was marked by a massive outpouring of recollections over the role Mandela played in restoring South Africa to international competition after the Apartheid era and his use of national teams to try and foster reconciliation across the color barrier.

The European Tour golf tournament in Durban, named after Mandela, took three days to complete the first round and was eventually restricted to 54 holes because of bad weather.

"Winning The Nelson Mandela at this time, when it's sad for everyone, everyone is mourning and tomorrow's the big day, it means a lot and it's something I can keep close to my heart for ever," said winner Dawie van der Walt after his two-shot triumph on Saturday.

Monday, which is a public holiday in South Africa, will see an set of football fixtures and Wednesday marks the start of the first cricket test between South Africa and India at Johannesburg's Wanderers stadium.

The Indian cricketers were due to play a two-day warm-up match on Saturday and Sunday but the game was advanced by a day to avoid a clash with Mandela's funeral in Qunu on Sunday.

But heavy rains in Johannesburg left the outfield wet and the match unplayable, robbing the tourists of valuable practice before the first test.

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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