Monday, December 09, 2013

Nelson Mandela - 15 - 12 - 43,000,000

It's taken me a while to compose this but here goes...

 For me there are three numbers that sum up Nelson Mandela's achievement more than anything else.




I can't actually remember Mandela coming out of jail. My parents used to watch the Antiques Road Show whenever we were in but I don't remember watching the edition that was interrupted to show him coming out jail. Maybe I have a rubbish memory or maybe we had gone out that day.

But there is one moment I will remember above all others.

Rugby is normally a game I have absolutely no interest in. I once had a Welsh flatmate who was normally a great bloke but utterly unbearable whenever Wales were playing and/or won. But I couldn't understand or give a damn. At school I almost never played it - at one school only some boys in each year were trained and I applied but was rejected within twenty minutes and despite letters that school made no effort to teach the game to use. At my next school I found we were supposed to have arrived with a comprehensive understanding of the game and I was soon dispatched to the sidelines and treated like an idiot who was sometimes given punishments whenever I dared to ask basic key questions about a game I had no real experience or understanding of and needed to know the basics that the teachers hadn't bothered to teach me. Luckily I soon left that pathetic excuse for an educational institution.

But one afternoon I saw one of the greatest ever moments in the history of rugby. And it had little to do with matchplay.

It was the final of the World Cup. New Zealand had assumed it would be walkover. They soon learnt it wasn't. They lost to the hosts, South Africa, 15-12.

And then came the presentation of the trophy by the host nation's head of state.

For a long time South Africa had been divided in sport as in much else. A footballer talks of how he could go into a restaurant and all the black staff would be demanding their autograph yet none of the white diners could even recognise them. A golfer could claim that the country was a small nation of just five million people - meaning just white South Africa.

But then came the fall of apartheid. The election of Mandela. And much changed. One day showed it more than any other.

The World Cup saw South Africans united as they never had done before. Not immediately but as the national team progressed through the stages it became ever more popular. Nelson Mandela invested a lot of time and credibility in supporting the rugby team. Once they had been the symbol of white South Africa and many opponents of apartheid, Mandela himself, had wished them bad and hoped for their defeat. Yet 1995 so much changed. Mandela even donned the Springboks' shirt and went into the changing rooms to wish the team well before the final match.

The Springboks won 15-12. New Zealand whinged to disguise their team's failings, but South Africa had triumphed. Mandela presented the trophy to the winning team's captain.

That day there were no Blacks in South Africa. No Whites. No Coloureds. No Indians. There were just South Africans. 43,000,000 of them. One man and one game had brought them together as one like never before.


Anonymous said...

You miss the most important fact about that game: The All Black's were poisoned, so should have won.

Anonymous said...

I guess the school was Radley. Who were the idiots who failed to teach you rugby properly?

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Simon Barlass and Stephen Rathbone were the teachers assigned to the lowest level of first years, though I got the impression that their hands were tied by John Nye. All three are still on staff at Radley College.


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