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How Nelson Mandela and Rugby United South Africa

Updated on October 4, 2014

The Day the Rainbow Nation Was Born

Being born and brought up in East Africa in the 1950s and with a love of the African continent, I remember the continual banter on news channels and in the press of the dreadful apartheid problems in South Africa. Not always understanding what apartheid actually meant as a 10 year old, it wasn't long before I became fully aware of how this racial segregation had seriously damaged this wonderful country.

As a youngster, my first love was sport, I played any game I got the chance to play, and ran in races given any opportunity, especially at school sports days. As I transitioned up the school my love of sport continued, in the summer it would be tennis and golf while in the winter field hockey and rugby would keep us exercised.

Never being very good at rugby and with a grandfather who had played for the Irish national team between 1910 and 1913, I became an avid follower of this tremendous sport. Whenever international matches were played we would try to watch on television, but undoubtedly the highlights were seen during the Rugby World Cup held every 4 years.

The Rugby World Cup in 1995 was truly one of those very special moments in history. South Africa participated (and hosted the event) for the very first time following years and years of an international sports boycott - and WON. But it was the fairytale ending when Nelson Mandela, dressed in a Springbok rugby jersey and matching baseball cap, presented the trophy to Francois Pienaar, South Africa's captain.

Photo credit:

Created on 29 Aug 2013

IMMINENT - Moments in History

Selected as Lens of the Day on 6 December 2013

What Was Apartheid All About?

Apartheid referred to "the state being apart". The National Party or NP formed the national government of South Africa and ruled the country from 1948 to 1994. Under their legislation, a damning and damaging system of racial segregation was ruthlessly enforced by the dominant, but minority white, Afrikaner inhabitants. As a result, the majority of the population who were black inhabitants had to endure curtailed rights.

In South Africa, racial segregation began under Dutch and British rule in colonial times, but the official policy of apartheid wasn't introduced until after the 1948 general election. New laws now classified the inhabitants into four distinct groups by race and color - "white", "coloured", "native", and "Asian". From now on black people were considered inferior and segregation in housing, education and medical care became commonplace. Even beaches and certain public services weren't to escape this appalling treatment.

Apartheid sparked a great deal of violence and unrest, and many of the significant protests were dealt with by imprisoning the anti-apartheid leaders, this caused further repression and increased violence. By now the West had placed sanctions on South Africa which made governing the country by the regime more difficult.

In 1990, President F.W. de Klerk began talks with a view to ending apartheid, and in 1994 multi-racial democratic elections took place, in which Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress (ANC) won the people's mandate.

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Long Walk To Freedom

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Get into the world of Nelson Madela, even if only for a brief time. In his bestseller, he takes us through part of his journey as he talks of burying the hatchet of ethnic hatred, and forging ahead towards a country of peace and love.

He teaches us how to treat all peoples as equals, but don't expect him to be super-human as, in his own words, he also has many faults. No-one is perfect, but Mandela advocates the power of peaceful protests.

This is a must read book for anyone with a streak of humanity in them!


Mandela's Years in Prison

Nelson Mandela's political work during the 1950s and 1960s did not go unnoticed by the apartheid regime and it wasn't long before he became one of their major targets. After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Mandela went underground, but in 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage and attempting to overthrow the government.

He served 27 years in three different prisons, the first 18 years (1964-82) were spent on Robben Island, a small island just 5 miles off the coast at Cape Town in Table Bay. The following 5 1/2 years in Pollsmoor Prison (1982-88), and the final 2 1/2 years in Victor Verster Prison (1988-90).

Between 1968 and 1969, Nelson Mandela suffered two tragedies, first his mother passed away then his eldest son died in a car crash but the authorities refused to allow him to attend the funerals.

1962 - 1990 Nelson Mandela: Prison Years

Robben Island Museum

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In prison, you come face to face with time. There is nothing more terrifying.

— Nelson Mandela

The Rugby World Cup

The Rugby World Cup (RWC) is a tournament held every four years between the leading international teams from around the world. The winning side receives the William Webb Ellis Cup or rugby world cup as it has become known.

The International Rugby Board (IRB) is the sport's international governing body, and they own the Rugby World Cup Limited who are responsible for administering the tournament.

The first RWC was in 1987, and subsequent tournaments have been held every four years since. Twenty of the world's top teams are invited to take part.

The 2015 World Cup will be staged in England, and in 2019, the event will be held in Japan.

Following the extraordinary success of the 1995 RWC and the fairytale ending for South Africa, it was inevitable that in time a film would be made about it, and it was. Called 'Invictus' and directed by Clint Eastwood it starred Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar.

Invictus translated from Latin means "undefeated"


Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation
Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation

This is a film that had it not been historically accurate, many viewers could have found it totally unbelievable.

Nelson Mandela was heard to utter the word 'Invictus' as he was being driven away from the stadium after the match.

A remarkable story of a remarkable day in South Africa's history. A film with great entertainment value.


Rugby World Cup 1995

1995 Rugby World Cup - The Full Story
1995 Rugby World Cup - The Full Story

Recognized as one of the most poignant sporting images of our time. President Mandela, wearing the Springbok jersey, presents the Rugby World Cup to Francois Pienaar, his nation's captain.

The achievement on the rugby field was immense as Pienaar's side somehow found a way, against the odds, to defeat the mighty New Zealand All Blacks, which included Jonah Lomu, the previously unstoppable rugby giant.

This was a day where history was made; the Rainbow Nation was reborn.


Rugby Union - The Game

The game of rugby union is said to have been invented by a pupil of Rugby School in England, when the ball was picked up during a football game.

Rugby is a full contact sport whereby an oval shaped ball is picked up and passed to fellow members of the team with the intention of crossing over the opponents line and touching the ball down onto the ground for what is called a 'try' (5 points). Then an attempt is made to kick the ball from a placeholder positioned on the earth opposite to where the try was scored. (2 points for a successful attempt). To prevent the opponents from running through and scoring tries, the team on the defensive has to tackle players with the purpose of regaining control of the ball. Tackles can be hard and furious often resulting in casualties.

Rugby spread throughout the British Isles and Commonwealth countries such as, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. France, Italy, South Africa, Argentina and Georgia are also top rated countries.

This is not a game for the faint hearted !

Image credit: Understand Rugby Union

The Enjoyment of Rugby

My grandfather, while studying to be a doctor at Trinity College in Dublin, was a keen rugby player. Like many in his chosen profession, this was the game they chose to play, and it wasn't long before he got the call-up to play for his country, Ireland. He played in a handful of matches wearing the proud green jersey between 1910 and 1913 before World War I interrupted most sporting schedules for the next few years.

When I see the Springboks sporting their predominantly green jersey (with a gold collar), I can't help but think about our not too dissimilar emerald green Irish jersey. Two countries in green and two countries I have a little in common with, but for now rugby is the game many of our family love.

On the side, another small family connection with this occasion was that my cousin's wife was the sister of Sean Fitzpatrick, the All Blacks captain (#2 or hooker) on this tumultuous day. His supreme All Black team was expected to triumph over the 'boks' - but they were up against an entire nation on fire!

About the Game of Rugby...

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Have You Ever Watched the Rugby World Cup?

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Highlights of the Rugby World Cup 1995

Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography

Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography
Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography

Nelson Mandela is an international hero who has dedicated his entire life to the struggle against racial oppression in South Africa. In 1993, he won the Nobel Peace Prize along with FW de Klerk for working towards a peaceful end to apartheid and sowing the seeds for a new democracy in South Africa.

This book has a profound impact of the kindness, strength and humaneness of the man. After such dreadful cruelty and mistreatment, his humanity towards his oppressors is indeed impressive. The story is told of Mandela's life, his epic struggle followed by setback and finally the renewed hope with the ultimate triumph.

This book should be on the syllabus for all students studying history in all countries of the world.


A Few Final Thoughts

With all the researching I've done when writing lenses and other articles, none has moved me more than compiling this one. The more I read about this extraordinary man and what he has had to endure in his lifetime of struggle, oppression and hardship, the more I'm moved in realizing what he achieved for mankind as a whole.

Studying law as a young man and setting up South Africa's first black law practice stood him in good stead for the rest of his life. His dignity, understanding and forgiveness is legendary, but I cannot think of any recent person who has changed so many peoples lives for the better. I know Martin Luther King changed lives in America, and beyond forever - and he also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 - however, he did not have to suffer 27 harsh years of prison as well.

Following that infamous rugby world cup match, Mandela deserved as much recognition as the Springboks team itself - for they also had been so motivated by this truly amazing man.

Nelson Mandela died on 5th Dec 2013 and the world mourns the passing of one of the greatest statesmen of our time.

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Were you aware of the importance of this sporting occasion?

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Do You Remember That Day in 1995? - Thank you for your visit

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Great lens. I'm not a fan or anything, but this page is so well done, I become interested. :)

    • shadowfast7 profile image

      Sure Temp 

      4 years ago

      I remember watching a film about this long ago with matt damon, great story!

    • Adventuretravels profile image


      4 years ago from UK

      My husband went from Britain to South Africa on a top secret, highly illegal and very dangerous mission for the ANC back in 1971. He was inspired by the plight of Mandela and the other prisoners and wanted to help them. I wrote a lens about him if you are interested. In our family we have always been big fans of Mandela and enjoyed enormously the sight of him in the Springbok shirt. This is a brilliant lens and I am so glad you went to the trouble of making it. Thank you so much.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      What A Wonderful Man Nelson Mandela Will Go Down In History As The Mad Who Created Equal Opportunity Worldwide, God Rest His Soul.

    • VspaBotanicals profile image


      4 years ago

      Wonderful wonderful tribute! Thank you!

    • norma-holt profile image


      4 years ago

      Yes and I have something else to say. Mandela was in jail and everyone had tried to get him freed. One day a spiritual friend and myself were together when we were asked by the Spirit to pray for him. It was just before he was released. It was touching to see how the Springboks and Mandela hit it off and especially poignant when he wore the jersey. Nicely done lens.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Nelson Mandela will not be forgotten.

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      4 years ago

      Yes, and it was inconceivable that the striving had succeeded at last. Apartheid was a disgrace and we need to continue to work against discrimination that still is rampant in the U.S. and other areas, both racial and religious and in every way that people can be biased against others.

    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 

      4 years ago

      A most excellent narrative! Thank you for writing this important piece!

    • captainj88 profile image

      Leah J. Hileman 

      4 years ago from East Berlin, PA, USA

      You did a great job with this lens. It's beautiful and informative. As an American white with a black best friend, I know that these issues are not altogether resolved, but it's so uplifting to know that people continue to tear down racial barriers and pursue equality.

    • RoadMonkey profile image


      4 years ago

      While I am not a sports fan (I prefer to take part, rather than spectate), my brothers and sisters and even some of my children are avid rugby fans and my husband played rugby when he was younger. Great lens on Nelson Mandela.

    • rray001 lm profile image

      rray001 lm 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for the value in this article, and all the comments are positive great content brings great people together. RIP Mr. Mandela.

    • tmadeira lm profile image

      tmadeira lm 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for your unique insight on the great Nelson Mandela. This was an entertaining and informative read.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      R.I.P. Madiba. Thanks for a great and informative tribute.

    • eilval profile image


      4 years ago from Western Cape , South Africa

      Remember that day vividly as a fellow South African . I share your sentiments and your article brings back many memories . Just watched the memorial service at Johannesburg Stadium - it was electrifying . May his ideals and what he stood for live in our hearts .

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      A wonderful story.

    • SBPI Inc profile image

      SBPI Inc 

      4 years ago

      I have heard many things about Mandela, quite positive and quite negative and humans do spin actions or deeds to suit their relative agendas. Having said that, I do stand in the belief and with faith that there exists a soul which incorporates Love, Grace, Kindness and the dream for peace on earth for all peoples under God and that each of us will somehow make our own contribution to the world and society and trust the the purpose of all our lives, including Mandelas, is or will be fulfilled. He is now with God and at peace. May God rest his soul as most believe that his work has been done.


    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I saw Invictus without knowing what the film was about, last Sunday (1st Dec 2013) and I was truly shocked to know the guy who inspired is no more on 5th Dec 2013. One thing I learnt from the film was, guys like him make world a better place. There are lot of inspiring moments to watch for in the film but my favorite was the one where Francois thinks about him just before the last match. Thank you Rob3 for the lens.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      A really great tribute, I had almost forgotten about it to be honest.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I will look at rugby in a different light now. I will always see Mr. Mandela as a bright light. Thank you for this lens.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Nice lens, thanks for the tribute to a great man and humanitarian.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I remember how important that day was and still is. Excellent lens, a well deserved LotD!

    • KandH profile image


      4 years ago

      I most certainly do. What a great article - thanks & bless you for sharing!

    • MrAusAdventure profile image


      4 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Oh wow! I am just finding out through the comments here that Nelson Mandela died yesterday. I am amazed that I did not her of this earlier! I do not follow Rugby at all even though it is popular in the part of Australia where I live. I do not remember that day in 1995 because I grew up in a part of Australia where Rugby was not played and it was not in the media really at all. I have however watched the movie Invictus and learned all about it since. Congrats on LOTD, RIP Nelson, the world has lost a great man.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      No, but it was obviously quite significant. The Great man will be missed, but South Africa is a better place because he came their way!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      4 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Wonderful lens. Thank you for sharing. He will be missed.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this historic information on Nelson Mandela,who is and always will be a true hero. Congratulations on your LOTD award. Well done.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      We remember and honor the people who work for social justice.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I didn't see the game live... but saw the story re-told in the movie Invictus. Fabulous lens!

    • delia-delia profile image


      4 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! Thank God that Nelson Mandela lived the rest of his life a free man...and to have been part of the Rugby World Cup presentation...May his good works prevail and may he rest in Peace!

      I have never understood prejudice...God created us equal...

    • stereomike83 profile image


      4 years ago from UK

      Congratulations for getting LOTD for this great lens!

    • jen17 lm profile image

      jen17 lm 

      4 years ago

      Thank you for making this lens - I learned a lot about Nelson Mandela.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      4 years ago from Colorado

      We cannot overestimate the importance and impact of Nelson Mandela. Oh, to have a man of this magnitude and character in leadership. Thank you for this tribute. I loved the movie "Invictus." Must do more reading about the life of Mandela. Congratulations on being awarded LotD for this thought-provoking lens. Very pleased to see it recognized.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thanks for the walk through his life! Great lens

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      4 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      I played Rugby in the days when it was all amateur and we did not even wrap the posts to prevent injury. In those days the All Blacks reigned supreme. We all wanted to play like them and our school certainly did, we were rarely defeated and when we were we always won the return match (even if it was the away fixture), so proud were we of the game and our "heritage".

      This feeling about the game is shared by all players and surprisingly there are less injuries in Rugby than in Soccer! This is often said to be because "Soccer is a game for Gentlemen played by thugs and Rugby is a game for thugs played by Gentlemen".

      Whatever everyone connected to the sport in any way whatever were expecting an All Black rout on that day in 1995 as they had already beaten the best teams convincingly and the Springboks had struggled to play well. Everyone thought it was only the home advantage that took them to the final. We all expected an All Black rout (but secretly hoped for a Springbok victory).

      On the day the Springboks surprised us all as not only did they contain the All Black offense they were the team that went on to rout the famous All Blacks it truly was a dream come true. Magnificent icing on the cake of South Africa's freedom under Mandela. It was as if God and the angels had been on the Springbok's side. Such was the dominance of the All Black's at that time.

      What a great story and what a well deserved LOTD on this day following the passing of the Great man himself.

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 

      4 years ago from Europe

      I do, I cried like a baby, even though I'd never been to South Africa. It just didn't seem possible that such a day could happen even 10 years earlier.

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 

      4 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      I remember that day, and today the tributes to Nelson Mandela are making many mentions of it.Those of us in the UK who fought against apartheid in our younger days, and many others around the world are so sad that this great man has died. Even though we were all expecting it, it is still a great shock and sadness.

      He was inspirational to all.Our thoughts are with his family and the Rainbow Nation of South Africa.

    • Marcel W profile image

      Marcel White 

      4 years ago

      Just taking the opportunity to pay my respects to that great man, Nelson Mandela, perhaps the greatest leader Africa has ever produced.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 

      4 years ago from Lakewood New York

      An amazing man who endued surrering for his beliefs Thanks

    • Magpie Feathers profile image

      Magpie Feathers 

      4 years ago

      A tribute to a great leader who passed away peacefully, shedding light on critical issues. RIP !!

    • pkmcruk profile image


      4 years ago from Cheshire UK

      The world has lost a truly Great man who was dignified and humble. The world mourns today and prays that Madiba may Rest in Peace.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you

    • stereomike83 profile image


      4 years ago from UK

      I was 12 at the time of this world cup and whilst I remember watching England play in the tournament, it was only after I visited this beautiful country in 2000 that I started to appreciate the significance. Today Invictus is one of my "go-to" films!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Yes it was fantastic, what a statesman

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 

      5 years ago from Alabama USA

      No, but it was a great day in history. Thanks for sharing this.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you, great read, nicely done.

    • girlfriendfactory profile image


      5 years ago

      I don't remember the day, but I have remember apartheid vehemently and the horrors of it. In high school we had a white South African exchange student (1987) and then in the early 90s I knew a lovely lady who was a traveling nurse from South Africa. It wasn't until this year that I saw the movie about the Rugby World Cup but the memories cam rushing back and I was moved to tears. I so wish people could just treat people for who they are inside and nothing else. Terrific job!


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