Tag Archives: John Carlin

Previous Posts about Nelson Mandela

In the day since Nelson Mandela died, I looked into my archives of the blog and realized that I had written about the man known the world over as Madiba before.

A lot.

Here are links to some of my earlier posts about the late, great South African leader:

*On Nelson Mandela’s Hospitalization and the State of South African society. Dec 5, 2012

*Happy 93rd Birthday, Nelson Mandela. July 18, 2011

*Nelson Mandela’s Conversations with Himself. October 14, 2010

*Invictus and the Love of Country. May 23, 2010

*Fatima Meer on Nelson Mandela. March 12, 2010

*John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy the Basis for Invictus Dec. 6, 2009 Includes an excellent comment by friend Dany Fleming.

*Nelson Mandela turns 91 Years Old July 20, 2009


Chilean Chronicles, Part 77: Viva La Mundial

In the three months that we’ve been in Chile, we’ve seen events drenched in emotion.

We’ve seen the agonizing pain of surviving loved ones holding up large black and white photos of their sons, husbands, uncles, daughters, and nieces who were disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship in the 70s and have never returned.


We’ve seen the exuberance of Chileans drinking terremotos and eating anticuchos for days as they celebrated El Dieciocho on September 18, the national Day of Independence.

A group of Chileans enjoying early Independence Day celebrations.

A group of Chileans enjoying early Independence Day celebrations.

But perhaps the greatest show of feeling came last night, when the country’s national soccer team punched its ticket to go to Brazil next year for the World Cup, the planet’s largest sporting event.

The unifying power of sport has been commented on before.

In Invictus, the film based on John Carlin’s book, Clint Eastwood shows how Nelson Mandela donned the once-hated green jersey of the Springboks rugby team to bring the nation together in its quest to win the Rugby World Cup the year after the first free and democratic elections.

In 1967, the great Pele literally caused a 48-hour ceasefire in secessionist Biafra so that both sides could watch him play.

Here in Chile, the country remains deeply divided about the legacy of the Pinochet era, but there there was no apparent division within the nation last night.

The cancellation by non-profit Inria-Chile of their previously planned Data Tuesday was the first sign of the game’s significance.

The second came in Papi Pollo, a rotisserie chicken joint near our apartment that I go to regularly. Amidst the heat and grease of the french fries, sopaipillas and whole chickens that a man in white shirts and pants cut with impressive dexterity, the other worker, a stocky man with black hair and a round, open face, told me that he was giving all his attention to the evening’s game.

He was concentrating so hard that he gave me an extra 1,000 pesos for the half chicken I was taking back to our apartment.

You can give me this if you want, I said, but the charge is 3,500 pesos, not 2,500.

It’s important to focus on the game, but you have to focus on money, too. We laughed and shook hands after I gave him all the money.

First stop

I left our building and went out in the warm, clear evening air shortly before the game started.

I walked up Providencia Avenue, stopping at the newspaper stand that also sells candy and portraits of iconic music stars like Elvis that are hung on a fence on the other side of the sidewalk. About a dozen people had formed a half circle around the color television that had been carefully placed atop a stand so that all could see.

Watching the game at a newspaper stand near the Pedro de Valdivida metro stop.

Watching the game at a newspaper stand near the Pedro de Valdivida metro stop.

Most were sitting, and a few were standing.

I bought a coke to help establish my legitimacy and started snapping pictures.

The first 25 minutes of the game were generally in favor of Chile, whose players were wearing red shirts and who were playing in front of 67,000 fans at Estadio Nacional, the national stadium. They were issuing full-throated roars from the moment the referee blew the whistle to start the match, which Chile only needed to tie to advance to La Mundial.

Things were quieter at the kiosk, where the group watched intently, grimacing when Ecuador threatened and holding their hands up when Chile threatened, but did not score.

But they didn’t stay that way after a header by Alexis Sanchez zipped past the Ecuadorean goalkeeper and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. Sanchez ripped off his shirt in ecstasy.

The crowd gathered around the television didn’t do that, but erupted in joy, yelling, screaming, jumping up and down and punching their fists in the air.

The crowd at the stand reacts to Alexis Sanchez's goal.

The crowd at the stand reacts to Alexis Sanchez’s goal.

I continued to take pictures until one of the celebrants came over and told me in English with the utmost seriousness: Enough.

Enough with the pictures, he said. You can stay here and watch the game with us, but stop taking pictures.

So I left.

Paseo Orrego Luca

I walked further up the street, crossing over to the other side and stopping at Paseo Orrego Luca.

It’s an outdoor drinking establishment enclosed on three sides by buildings and filled with tables that sat comfortably under large, tan umbrellas and beneath the light provided by yellow, red, green and orange lanterns.

Adapting a page from South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup in 2010, the owner of the place, which was doing a very brisk business in french fries and beer delivered by bustling waiters, set up at least a dozen televisions of varying sizes so that everyone could easily see the action.

The crowd, many of whom were wearing red shirts and a number of whom sported jester hats with the national colors, also exploded in jubilation just as I was pulling up, when Gary Medel deposited the ball from a Sanchez header into the net for a 2-0 lead.

Fans watching first-half action of Chile against Ecuador at Paseo Orrego Luca.

Fans watching first-half action of Chile against Ecuador at Paseo Orrego Luca.

The margin held until halftime.

Chile played more conservative soccer to start the second half, and the game Ecuador squad pressed forward.

About 20 minutes into the half, the home side surrendered a goal to Caceido, who benefited from a lengthy run up the middle by Antonio Valencia.

The goal caused some apprehension among the multitudes at Paseo, but the hosts were never seriously threatened after that.

Concerned fans watch Chile against Ecuador in the second half at Paseo Orrego Luca.

Concerned fans watch Chile against Ecuador in the second half at Paseo Orrego Luca.

As the minutes wore down into injury time, the chant of “Chi-Chi-Chi, Le-Le-Le, Vi-va Chi-le!” grew less anxious and increasingly confident.

So, too, did the verses of an ode to the tournament their team has never won, but was about to join.

“Oh, viva la Mundial,

la Mundial, la Mundial,

Viva la Mundial.”

Long live the World Cup.

Victory Celebrations

The referee blew the final whistle and the celebrations began in earnest. Fists punched in the air.

The moment of victory at Paseo Orrego Luca.

The moment of victory at Paseo Orrego Luca.

Passionate embraces.

A couple embraces after Chile defeats Ecuador at Paseo Orrego Luca.

A couple embraces after Chile defeats Ecuador at Paseo Orrego Luca.

Flags waving.

Horns honking from passing cars.

Kids banging on the windows of the buses they were riding.

A woman in the back seat shaking her ample bosom as all around her laughed.

My camera had just about died, and I was feeling the effects of having gotten just two and a half hours of sleep, so decided to head back home.

But before I did, I returned to the kiosk where I had been watching.

The owner, lean and tall with at least a day’s stubble and a blue sweater, was there.

Felicidades a Chile, I said.

Congratulations to Chile.

We hugged.

I started singing the World Cup tribute song when I entered the building.

The doorman, who had watched the game on television, smiled widely.

I congratulated him, too, and said that Chile deserved the win.

Ecuador was good, I said, but Chile was better.

And now they’re going to the Mundial.

He agreed.

I sang the song again, raising my voice as I walked by the apartment next to us, whose residents often party into the wee hours of the weekend.

The festivities lasted for hours.

Oh, viva la Mundial. La Mundial, La Mundial. Viva la Mundial.

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.

Continue reading

100,000 page view mark, quick thoughts.

Passing the 100,000 page view mark is call for Celebration, Kool and the Gang style!

I know I’ve mentioned a number of page view milestones throughout the year, and yesterday was a big one.

We passed the 100,000 page view mark mid-afternoon yesterday.

The exciting news, too, is that more than 60 percent of them have come since October 1.

Thanks very much to all who have joined and contributed to the community at some point since last December 21, when I began this project by writing about Beauty Turner’s death.

A couple of other quick thoughts.

The Blind Side replaced New Moon as the top-grossing film in America last week.  I’ll write more about it in the future, and Michael Lewis’ book by the same name is worth reading.

I’m keeping the Israel reading going, and recently finished Amos Elon’s Jerusalem: City of Mirrors.  At this point I’ve read three books about Jerusalem and will devote a post soon to discussing them.

I wrote yesterday about John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy, which is the basis for Invictus. People wanting to learn more about Nelson Mandela’s ability to win over those who had been trained to hate him might consider James Gregory’s Goodbye Bafana, which was turned into a 2007 movie that I have not seen.

Happy 53rd Birthday, Larry Bird!

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.