Today is the 93rd birthday of a true hero, Nelson Mandela. Although it is hard for one image to sum up his many achievements and his dignity, I would choose the famous picture of Francois Pienaar receiving the rugby World Cup from Mandela in 1995.
John Carlin, author of Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, beautifully explains its significance :
Mandela’s coup de grâce, the final submission of white South Africa to his charms, came minutes before the final itself when the old terrorist-in-chief went on to the pitch to shake hands with the players dressed in the colours of the ancient enemy, the green Springbok shirt.
For a moment, Ellis Park Stadium, 95 per cent white on the day, stood in dumb, disbelieving silence. Then someone took up a cry that others followed, ending in a thundering roar: “Nel-son! Nel-son! Nel-son!”
And that was almost it. White South Africa had crowned Mandela king with the fervour black South Africa had done five years earlier at a stadium in Soweto, in the week after his release. (The Telegraph)
– Mandela’s birthday also reminded me of a fantastic article in National Geographic last year on what the football World Cup meant to South Africa which included truly inspiring stories of reconciliation between individuals still dealing with the legacies of apartheid;
– as confirmation of how things have thankfully changed: in 1988 in South Africa the government banned all outdoor events that had been scheduled to commemorate Mandela’s 70th birthday (The New Yorker);
– John Campbell, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria and political counselor at the US embassy in Pretoria during the end of apartheid writes that South Africa’s first post-apartheid president may have given the country the tools to find greatness :
Mandela’s vision for his country, which reflects his great strength of character, is based on the inherent dignity of men and women of all races. His courage shares similarities with that of Abraham Lincoln during the American civil war. His inclusiveness toward the Afrikaners that jailed him for 27 years shows an extraordinary generosity of spirit that recalls Martin Luther King. And his dogged determination and high political skills remind us of Winston Churchill in Britain’s finest hour. Perhaps above all, Mandela illustrates the crucial role of individual leadership in state-building. And, like Lincoln, Churchill, and King, Mandela has been remarkably successful in securing the support of his fellow citizens for his vision — in Mandela’s case, a “non-racial” democracy. (The Atlantic)