Mandela’s World Cup, James Gregory’s Goodbye, Bafana

James Gregory's memoir served as the basis for the movie Goodbye, Bafana.

In a concession to his age and increasing frailty, South African icon Nelson Mandela announced recently that he will watch the opening ceremony of June’s World Cup at home.

It’s been 15 years since then-President Mandela prowled the sideline wearing a copy of Francois Pienaar’s number 6, green Springbok jersey in the Rugby World Cup-action that was depicted in John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy, and, more recently on the screen, in Invictus.

According to the article, part of the reason Mandela will not be attending is that his passion for victory remains undimmed.

His grandson, in India for South African national day celebrations, said Mandela would watch the games on television. His rural home is in Qunu in the Eastern Cape province, his birthplace.

“We always watch soccer with him but unless the team is winning 2-0 he doesn’t feel comfortable,” he said. “Once it’s a tight situation, he usually walks away and says it’s too nerve-wracking.”

Mandela’s unquenched desire for lopsided victories is just one part of his remarkable personality that has made him such a compelling and rewarding subject for authors.  I have written before about The Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela’s autobiography, and Allister Sparks’ Tomorrow is Another Country, the story of the secret negotiations that led to South Africa’s “bloodless revolution.”

People wanting to learn more about Mandela’s tenacity magnanimity should consider reading James Gregory’s Goodbye, Bafana.  Written by a man who served as one of Mandela’s prison guards for more than 20 years , the book tells the tale of a gradual thawing of relations and forging of a friendship based on mutual respect and affection.

As his name suggests, Gregory is an English South African who grew up in a rural area speaking Zulu and developing a close friendship with Bafana, a black boy in the area.

As Gregory grows into adulthood, the apartheid-era culture leads to his suppressing that part of his past and endorsing, if not embracing, the system.

His relationship with Mandela changes that.

At first, the warden is resistant to the African National Congress leader.  But eventually he comes under the sway of the man’s transcendent humanity and supervises Mandela’s visits with his then-wife Winnie.

When Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president nearly 16 years ago, he invited Gregory to attend.

Mandela’s inability to attend what could be the final great public moment for his country during his lifetime underscores the magnitude of what he has done during his 91 years of life.

Gregory’s book helps deepen that appreciation.


2 responses to “Mandela’s World Cup, James Gregory’s Goodbye, Bafana

  1. To be honest I would not wish to recommend the film excepting to comment that it is, in most senses, removed from actuality.

    A cursory study of events clearly shows that it was in fact Christo Brand who befriended Mandela and not Gregory, who, it transpires fabricated much and did so for financial gain.

    Follow up the above with a quick read (if that is proper and indeed feasible given its length) of Mandela The Authorised Portrait and you will find a different account of events. Gregory, as you may find features little.



    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks for the tip. I’ll take a look. I had read Gregory’s book and seen him mentioned in Mandela’s autobiography, and am always willing to learn more.


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