We finally got around to seeing the movie “Invictus”.  It is the story about how the South African national rugby team – the Springboks – won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 when it was hosted in South Africa.

The obvious question is… Why would anybody want to watch a movie about rugby?

Picture from www.moviewallpaper.net

Well, oddly enough, the movie is not really about rugby.  It is about one of the most volatile periods in South African history and how our first Black president and the captain of a rugby team managed to draw together a nation on the brink of civil war.

Of course they don’t mention civil war in the movie.  But I was there. For some of us, it felt like it was not far off.

People outside South Africa have remarked on occasion how amazing it must have been for me to live through such an historic occasion as the end of Apartheid. Um yes, although to tell the truth it was scary as hell. I was in my very early twenties when Mandela became President. Watching a clip in “Invictus” of the day of those elections brought back a flood of memories.

I voted. I think almost everyone voted. On the evening news that night I saw the queues of people waiting to post their ballots. It was awesome, and I was terrified. We had no idea what was going to happen next.
If the ANC lost, the Blacks would surely cry foul and run riot, take to the streets with pangas[1] and kill us in our homes as we hid, terrified, behind our burglar-proofing and net curtains.
But if the ANC won, would they see it as their cue to go ahead and seize the country from us, the White oppressors they hated, taking to the streets with pangas and killing us in our homes as we hid, terrified, behind our burglar-proofing and net curtains?

If the Blacks didn’t start it, would the staunch right-wingers attack instead? We had no idea if they would, although we suspected they could and to the general public these were all very real, extremely scary possibilities.

As it turned out the ANC won and to our relief nobody attacked anybody, although tensions ran high for a good while afterwards. An overall feeling of fear and mistrust seemed to settle on everyone as we went about our daily business.

That was in 1994.
In 1995 the Rugby World Cup came to town.

It was the first time I had ever experienced patriotism. I remember the day we won the final as if it was yesterday. It was a Friday afternoon and I was at work. There was one TV in the place and everyone in the office gathered around to watch the Springboks win. We screamed as one, urging them on – from the MD to the cleaners; black, white, coloured all brought together with one goal in mind.

Picture from www.thisislondon.co.ukIt was an awesome feeling and the best part was that it remained long after the competition was over. The thing that had surprised me the most (aside from Francois Pienaar and the lads actually winning the thing) was the way everybody in the country had become involved. Rugby was traditionally the bastion of White South Africans. The Black played soccer. It was as racially divided as Apartheid had been.  Yet somehow, our Madiba had managed to get the people to cross that divide. I believe that did more to heal our fledgling Rainbow Nation than anything else before or since.

And now, 15 years later the Soccer World Cup is in full swing. I haven’t lived in South Africa for almost a decade but I truly hope this does for the country what that other World Cup competition did back then. The nation could certainly do with a pick-me-up.

If you’re there, leave me a comment, will you? I’d love to hear about it first-hand.


[1] A “Panga” is kind of like a machete.