I was at Ellis Park in 1995 when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup and Nelson Mandela stepped forward for one of the most symbolic political gestures of the century when he handed the cup to captain Francois Pienaar. Rugby was the sport of the Afrikaans, who were the architects of apartheid. Such was Mandela’s embrace of forgiveness and reconciliation rather than vengeance that he was able to don the Springbok jersey and bring the whole world to his side.
I wasn’t in New Zealand for the 1981 Springbok tour, but I have to say that 100% credit must go to the protest movement for taking on the rugby and political establishments of both countries, rejecting the patently ridiculous “politics and sport do not mix” argument, and fighting for what was right and to make South Africa a better place. New Zealand played a pivotal role in leading international opposition to apartheid and the Trevor Richards, John Mintos and Tom Newnhams of our world should be taking a bow at this moment of celebration of a great man’s life.
Of all the news reportage about Mandela’s death, I thought that Paul J. H. Schoemaker’s piece for INC. was especially insightful. His original commentary “The Three Decisions that Made Nelson Mandela a Great Leader” describes three situations in which this leader had to go deep against human instinct in order make the right things happen.