When the finals took place against the vaunted and heavily favored All Blacks of New Zealand, which featured the punishing Jonah Lomu, I had gained admission to the Fulbright Teacher Exchange program and had a plan to talk with Vukani Cele, my exchange partner.
The call never happened as Vukani and the rest of the nation were caught up in a delirious and unprecedented joint national celebration and did not make it back to Durban.
Invictus, which is based on John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy, gives us a better understanding why.
I have written before about Carlin’s book, so won’t recap it too much here other than to say that then-President Nelson Mandela had a visceral and profound grasp on the power of symbol and of the meaning of sport to white South Africans. The international boycott of South African sporting teams may have contributed to white voters’ approving F.W. DeKlerk’s 1992 referendum among white voters to have a second and larger vote with all citizens, according to Arlene Getz in a Newsweek piece that ran shortly after the movie opened in theaters last year.
Mandela’s understanding culminated and converged in his donning the once-hated Springboks jersey with the captain Francois Pienaar’s number 6 on it before the championship game.