|Nelson Mandela with Francois Pienaar (Springbok captain) |
at Rugby World Cup 1995.
South Africa in the second half of the 20th Century was one of the last nations on Earth to retain the institutionalisation and legalisation of racial oppression under the name apartheid. The names Steve Biko, Walter Sisulu, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others came to be known throughout the world as indigenous leaders of the resistance to apartheid. But by far, the most well known name was that of Nelson Mandela.
Originally espousing violence as a means, albeit one he felt forced into by the brutality of apartheid, Mandela went on to proclaim a nonviolent resistance. Later, when he became the nations Prime Minister he solidified this commitment with nonviolence by seeking to forgive rather than to condemn and punish.
In 1995 when Mandela walked onto the rugby field at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, at the start of the Rugby World Cup final wearing the green Springbok jersey Mandela was signifying not just to his nations people, black and white, but to the entire world, that reconciliation is possible. The green Springbok jersey until that moment had become a hated symbol of apartheid by those opposing sporting contact with South Africa throughout the world, particularly in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
Yet, there stood a man who had suffered incredibly under the system of apartheid that the Springbok jersey had come to represent. Mandela had moved from being a victim to being a merciful forgiver. Mandela had moved from being a perpetrator of violent means to being a man of peace and justice. When he stood on that field in that jersey, Mandela was announcing that we could all do the same. We could all become peaceful, we could all be forgivers.
At his 90th birthday celebratory concert in London’s Hyde Park, attended by thousands, Nelson Mandela ended his speech by saying that after ninety years of life the work was now in the hands of others.
Let us accept and cherish his gift. Let us continue to work for peace, justice and freedom using the two tools that he left us: compassion and forgiveness.