Tag Archives: Francois Pienaar

Eleven Mandela Moments

Mandela It´s been several days since Nelson Mandela died, and the tributes, analyses and discussions continue.

I spoke on Saturday with former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who said that people are mixing grief with celebration in Mandela´s homeland of South Africa.

Today, at the presentation of Chile´s annual report on human rights, Director Lorena Fries took a moment to honor Mandela and the work he did throughout his life to advance the cause.

I´ve been thinking about Mandela moments myself for a couple of a reasons.

The first is that a series of minutes show many of the man´s different sides.

The second is that, in fact, we live minute to minute, and that the accumulation of these discrete instances are indeed what makes up a life.

Here are 11 points in Mandela´s life that have stayed with me during the nearly 30 years that I have learned from him and the sources of information from where they came.

I. From Boy to Man

Mandela was circumcised at age 16, marking his transition from boyhood to becoming a man. He describes the experience in Long Walk to Freedom, talking in typical fashion about how he felt other young men responded more promptly than he did:

I looked down and saw a perfect cut, clean and round like a ring. But I felt ashamed because the other boys seemed much stronger and firmer than I had been; they had called out more promptly than I had. I was distressed that I had been disabled, however briefly, by the pain, and I did my best to hide my agony. A boy may cry; a man conceals his pain.

I had now taken the essential step in the life of every Xhosa man. Now I might marry, set up my own home and plough my own field. I could now be admitted to the councils of the com­munity; my words would be taken seriously.

II. Young Firebrand

Mandela has a section in Long Walk to Freedom in which he talks about telling Chief Albert Luthuli, then the president of the African National Congress, that he is afraid to confront the government.

I´m afraid to confront the government, Luthuli replies to the then-leader of the ANC Youth´s wing. I resign. You are now head of the ANC.

Mandela backed down.

III. Implacable and Unbroken Apartheid Opponent

Mandela appeared in full cultural garb for his closing statement at the Rivonia trial, at the end of which he and the other defendants were sentenced to life in prison.

He ended with the following words, which he repeated after his release in 1990, 27 years later:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

IV. Responding to Surprise Attacks.

In 1991 Mandela and the ANC engaged in negotiations with F.W. deKlerk´s National Party. In a speech deKlerk attacked the ANC. Mandela strode to the front of the World Trade Center and responded in icy tones.

I said I would like to raise a matter of national importance, and I am happy you have given me the opportunity to do so. I am gravely concerned about the behaviour of Mr. de Klerk today. He has launched an attack on the African National Congress, and in doing so he has been less than frank. Even the head of an illegitimate, discredited, minority regime as his, has certain moral standards to uphold. He has no excuse, because he is a representative of a discredited regime, not to uphold moral standards.

The members of the Government persuaded us to allow them to speak last. They were very keen to say the last word here. It is now clear why they did so. And he has abused his position because he hoped that I would not reply. He was completely mistaken. I am replying now.

V. Enduring Personal Pain

In 1992, after his release from prison and before his election as South Africa’s president, Nelson Mandela announced that he and his wife Winnie Mandela were separating.

It was a remarkably public and poignant moment that concluded with Mandela’s saying, “Ladies and gentlemen – I hope you will appreciate how painful this is to me. And I would appreciate it if we could have no questions,” before walking stiffly out of the room.

VI. Pleading for Peace in the Face of Violence

Mandela took to national television in 1993 after charismatic and much-loved Communist leader Chris Hani was killed. His comments included the following:

“Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. … Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us.”

VII. On the Verge of Victory

Mandela entered FNB Stadium in Johannesburg shortly before the elections in April 1994 that would see him complete the journey from prisoner to president. The following song greeted him. The words mean, “Nelson Mandela, he brings us peace.” For those who want to see more, go to Lee Hirsch´s impressive film, Amandla: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony.

VIII. Articulating the Hopes of a Nation

Mandela delivered his inaugural address in a blue three-piece suit shortly after winning the presidency and danced his trademark dance afterward.

He concluded his address with the following words:

We are both humbled and elevated by the honour and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first President of a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, to lead our country out of the valley of darkness.

We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom.

We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success.

We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.

Let there be justice for all.

Let there be peace for all.

Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.

Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.

Let freedom reign.

The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!

God bless Africa!

Thank you.

IX. Embracing the Symbol of the Former Enemy

As part of its reintegration into the world´s sporting scene, South Africa hosted the 1995 World Cup. The home team won a dramatic 15-12 overtime victory against the vaunted All Blacks of New Zealand. Mandela donned the green Sprinbok jersey that previously had been the symbol for black South Africans of the oppressive apartheid regime.

His handshake with Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, the sicon of French Hugenots, is an iconic image to this day.

X. Disarming Sense of Humor

This is an excerpt from a 1999 New York Times article that noted that Mandela called some of the opposition ¨Mickey Mouse parties”:

`After the ”Mickey Mouse” crack, one opposition leader, Tony Leon, shot back that Mr. Mandela was ”running a Goofy Government” that had failed to deliver services.

A few weeks later, Mr. Mandela was visiting a friend in the hospital when he heard that Mr. Leon was also there, recovering from heart bypass surgery.

He approached Mr. Leon’s bed from behind the curtains. ”Mickey Mouse,” he called out in a deep voice, ”this is Goofy come to see you.”`

XI. Final Major Public Appearance

A beaming Mandela, then in his early 90s, made a dramatic appearance at the 2010 World Cup that South Africa also hosted. It was his last major public appearance.


Invictus and the love of country.

John Carlin's Playing the Enemy is the basis for Invictus.

Dunreith and I watched Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s feel-good representation of the true story of South Africa’s 1995 victory in the Rugby World Cup it hosted.

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.

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John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy the basis for Invictus

Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar's post-game handshake and exchange are featured in John Carlin's Playing the Enemy and, I imagine, in Invictus.

UPDATE: Great comment by Dany Fleming:

I’m equally conflicted about the film – though I haven’t actually read the book.

We were living in South Africa (‘92′93) when it was first allowed to emerge from international sports isolation and darkness; an effective tool, in a somewhat sad way, used against Apartheid.

I distinctly remember driving past the stadium in Cape Town as Australia rolled in for SA’s first international Rugby match. Hysteria and jubilation was certainly in the air. By the time I arrived in my local township destination, though, it was a day like any other. No notice of the significant international event taking place a few miles away.

As a former Rugby player, I often stopped by U of Cape Town to watch rugby practices, in total awe of their skill. I really wanted to go to that first match, but didn’t dare complicate things for me.

This film, the Power of One and many of the SA-focused films offer such an interesting paradox. Many of them are compelling and moving stories. To the majority of folks who have such vague understandings of South Africa, they likely offer valuable insights.

However, the idea of another movie relying on a white protagonist hero (as real as the hero may be) always makes me shake my head in frustration. There is more to the story than my self-righteous indignation sometimes allows, though.

A powerful slogan and campaign used by South Africa’s anti-Apartheid movement was “freeing our oppressors: freeing ourselves.” It was not a trite slogan.

It was certainly easy to find folks wanting (and working) to substitute the “freeing our oppressors” line with “substitute your favorite bludgeoning verb” our oppressors. That sentiment certainly made sense to me when I arrived. Without a doubt, though, the larger South African anti-Apartheid community was firmly rooted in the idea of “freeing their oppressors.”

This strategy, ironically, looks to make “heroes” out of the very “scoundrels” it’s meant to move out of power. This is certainly amazingly elucidated in Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom.”

But this is more than just an effective strategy, it’s an amazingly mature and deeply humane community response led by equally mature and humane leaders. The leadership of Mandela, Tutu, Stephen Biko cannot be overstated. They also had beside them countless lesser-known leaders who rose to the call and challenge as well. They understand that the real hero’s aren’t working for the accolades and credit.

South Africa has always provided me an inspiring and humbling understanding of change. This story represents part of the real strategy and change that occurred. I’m a good bit removed from SA now, but it’s possible the “freeing our oppressors” slogan still has a place in South Africa. Ironically, it’s probably much more difficult to deliver when you’re in power.

It’ll be interesting to see how the film handles this powerful paradox for me. Is it within the consciousness of the filmmakers, completely lost on them or does it occupy somewhere in-between that still has box-office receipts to satisfy?

I imagine I’ll still shake my head at the end – a response I think I’ve conditioned in myself. But there is that place in me that understands the powerful “freeing” message that is making its way overseas from South Africa to here – one that many South African’s see as very strategic and very important. So, I’ll deal with my paradox.


For millions of South Africans, the 1995 Rugby World Cup was an iconic moment.

Just a year removed from the nation’s first free and democratic elections, the Rainbow Nation played host to the world’s third quadrennial rugby championships in its return to the global sporting stage.

After upsetting defending champion Australia in the opening, the Springboks, who had formerly been one of the bastions of the apartheid regime, used a combination of a rugged defense, a bit of luck in the semifinals against the French squad and the support that only a hometown crowd liberated from centuries of oppression can offer.

Francois Pienaar, a burly flanker and descendant of French Huguenots, led the team.

The finals pitted South Africa against the mighty and heavily favored All Blacks of New Zealand.  The vaunted Kiwis featured the enormous and scarily swift Jonah Lomu, a 6’7″ , 250-pound Maori winger.  Lomu had run wild while scoring four tries in the semifinals against England, including a trampling/bowling over of fullback Mike Catt.

The South Africans had another weapon, though: President Nelson Mandela.

Now 91 years old, Mandela appears rarely in public, walks with a cane and has trouble hearing.

It was a different story 14 years ago.

After having served close to three decades in prison, the then-head of the African National Congress emerged unbroken and unbowed before sweeping to victory in the 1994 elections.

Mandela’s pre-Finals locker room visit is credited by a number of players with having inspired them to even greater levels of exertion and helped them realize that they were playing more than a game-they were playing for racial reconciliation.

Mandela’s donning the green Springboks jersey and cap and prowling the sidelines sent the message to all South Africans that the days of sports being the exclusive province of one race or another were over.

In the ceremony after the thrilling match, Mandela said, “Francois, thank you very much for what you have done for our country.”

“No, Mr. President,” said Pienaar, who had never questioned apartheid during his youth.  “Thank you for what you have done for our country.”

Journalist John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy is the basis for Invictus, the Clint Eastwood-directed film starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar.

I imagine that I will eventually see the film, and know right away that there are some challenges.  While Freeman has played a black South African before in The Power of One, and has certainly come a long way since his days on public television’s The Electric Company, he has grabbed more headlines offscreen for an alleged affair with his step-granddaughter.

For his part, Damon, who hails from Cambridge, has twice demonstrated his proficiency at Boston accents, but will likely be harder pressed to display similar mastery of Afrikaans speech patterns.  Beyond that, he is half a foot and more than 60 pounds smaller than Pienaar was when the tournament occurred

My anticipatory objections to the movie aside, I recommend the book.

Beyond recreating the Springboks’ magical run, Playing the Enemy takes the reader through Mandela’s unparalleled ability to negotiate from a position of strength and shared humanity, even as he was imprisoned and the ANC was banned.

Much has been written recently about how far South Africa has fallen since the promise of its early post-apartheid years.  For a reminder of a brief shining moment in which much, if not all seemed possible, read Carlin’s book.

Happy 91st Birthday, Nelson Mandela.

This iconic handshake between Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar is just one of many reading treats available for people wanting to learn more about the 91-year-old legend.

This iconic handshake between Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar is just one of many reading treats available for people wanting to learn more about the 91-year-old legend.

The great Nelson Mandela turned 91 on Saturday.

His birthday was met with what has become the usual pomp and circumstance: star-studded concerts featuring artists like Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin; heartfelt tributes from around the globe; and an appearance by the man himself.  Although walking with the cane that has become his constant companion in recent years, the former African National Congress head appeared spry and vital.

One of the 20th century’s truly heroic figures, Mandela has been the subject of innumerable books.   I have not read all of them by any means, but do have a soft spot for the following:

1. The Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela  I wrote on Valentine’s Day about Mandela’s autobiography, which was published shortly after the country’s first democratic and free elections in 1994.  While at times the book feels like an Academy Award acceptance speech in that Mandela seems to be thanking everyone who ever contributed to the struggle, the sentiment is genuine and does not detract much from this fascinating account of his birth in the Transkei, flight from an arranged marriage to Johannesburg at age 19, and gradual exposure to what became his lifelong commitment to a free South Africa.

2. Tomorrow is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Negotiated Revolution, by Allister Sparks.

This book by one of South Africa’s leading journalists and the author of The Mind of South Africa, an intellectual history that owes much to the work of W.J. Cash, reads like a thriller as it covers the covert negotiations that began in the mid-80s and continued until Mandela’s 1994 election as president.

Nelson Mandela:The Man and the Movement, by Mary Benson This biography, which was published before The Long Walk to Freedom, provides a balanced and thorough look at Mandela’s early years, time in Johannesburg, years at the Black Pimpernel, Rivonia Trial and many of his years in prison.

Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation, by John Carlin.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup, held in South Africa, marked the country’s reintegration into the world sporting scene.   Rugby had been part of the glue in the wall of legal separation that was apartheid.

Carlin shows how Mandela, by donning the Springboks‘ green jersey, visiting the team in the locker room and prowling the sidelines as the team battled in the waning minutes of extra time against the mighty and favored All Blacks, transformed the former symbol white domination to the dawning of the Rainbow Nation.

Francois Pienaar, the scion of French Hugenots and the articulate team captain, is one of the book’s major characters.

Years later, he recalled that after the game ended, Mandela said, ‘Thank you very much for what you’ve done for South Africa” but I said “Thank you for what you’ve done.”

Indeed.  The world, and not just South Africa, is grateful that Nelson Rolihlalhla Mandela has walked among for 91 years, and, hopefully, for more to come.