Just the other day at a felicitation function the Nepali Cricket Captain quoted “It is due to the vision of one man that we have qualified for the world cup. And how together by working as a team we can contribute for the nation” He was referring the Nepali Cricket team coach Pubudu Dassanayake. Instilled in the Nepali team was the belief that they could qualify for the world cup so they did. And he was equally concerned about where our nation due to the political instability was headed. With tears in his eyes urged for the Countries politician and lawmakers to work together as team.A day or two later as I wake up early one morn and turn on the tele to find out the legendary icon “Madiba” better known as “Nelson Mandela” had passed away at the age of 95. This iconic and legendary freedom fighter needs no introduction. The fight he put up for eradicating apartheid from South Africa and spending 27 years of his life in Robben Island is staggering and an inspiration. How one man can stick to a cause despite all the turmoil and mayhem. Respect comes from within.
But as a sports fan I was intrigued by the contribution Madiba had on sports. How he could foresee that as the President of South Africa, he could contribute to “Rugby” to unite a country still battling post-apartheid political and social instability. Mandela took to the President’s office on 10th May, 1994 after being victorious in the multiracial elections. One of his major concerns was “National reconciliation.” South Africa had been ruled by the minority apartheid rule and the black were subjected to extreme discrimination. However, as apartheid came to an end and Mandela came to power the whites did not consider Mandela would do any good to them while the blacks were unwilling to forgive and unite with whites. Mandela knew he had to unite the nation because he needed just the white just as much as the black. They were all South Africans. And so tried his best to form a coalition government to unite “The Rainbow Nation- South Africa”
In 1995, South Africa would be hosting the Rugby Union World Cup for the first time. This was their first World Cup appearance as they had been banned from international events due to apartheid. For the Whites this was a huge moment as they loved their Rugby but had missed so much of international event. For the black and the African National Congress(ANC) they detested Rugby because Rugby and the green jersey to them was a symbol of the apartheid rule. Mandela on the other hand saw this as an opportunity to unite the nation that still had the remnants of the discrimination by color even though apartheid was gone. Mandela wanted to use Rugby “as a carrot” and “to unite the nation”. And so he invited the team captain François Pienaar, for tea at his office. Pienaar did not know what to expect but unknowingly he was a part of a grand design for uniting South Africa. This one by no means an easy task and would take an herculean effort. South African Rugby team“Springboks” were a symbol of the apartheid rule just as much as the old anthem and the old flag for the blacks. And during games and events the blacks would rather cheer for the opponent than cheering the home team. Mandela wanted Springboks to represent not just the whites but the entire nation. The team representing the Springboks in the World Cup was an all-white team with the exception of Chester Williams. There were times when the people that supported Mandela made harsh comments and even booed him on occasion for urging them to the support the Springboks. At times the ANC even tried to change the name and the color of Springboks but Mandela was adamant on sticking with the old name. He knew that if he took away something that the whites loved so dearly the country “The rainbow nation” wouldn’t unite as one.
By June 24, 1995 Mandela had got the entire nation to get behind the Springboks. The first piece of Mandela’s grand design Pinnear along with the South Africa Rugby union set off to building relations in various black colonies prior to the world cup. The slogan of the World Cup 1995 “One Team, One Country” epitomized the grand design of Mandela. The Springboks had by now understood how they had a significant role to play in helping Mandela unite the nation. And the Springboks a team of mostly whites would go on to sing an old black resistance song “Nkosi Sikelele Afrika (God Bless Africa)” which now is the national anthem.
South Africa “Springboks” were seeded 9th for the World Cup and with the likes of New Zealand “The All blacks” and Australia “The Wallabies” in the mix, they were not the fancied to win the tournament. South Africa defeated Australia in the inaugural game then Romania and Canada to progress to the next round. They defeated Western Samoa next and beat the French in the semis to progress to the World Cup final. In the final at Ellis Park as Mandela entered the playing surface with the Green Springboks jersey thundering roar echoed throughout the stadium “Nelson, Nelson” there were no white or black that day on Ellis Park there was “One game, One Nation – The Rainbow Nation” The Springboks would emerge victorious in a tight affair, Springboks had succeeded to win the world cup, Mandela had succeeded in realizing a dream “unifying the nation”. As, Mandela headed out to hand the Trophy to François Pienaar he said “Thank you for what you have done for our Country.” Pienaar replied “No, Mr. President. Thank you for what you have done.”