Invictus: The True Story Behind the Movie
With the holiday season upon us, many new movies will be opening. One of those movies, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, tells how Nelson Mandela, newly elected as president, used the South Africa national rugby team (the Springboks) to unite his country. While many know of Mandela and what he did for South Africa, few know the story behind the movie.
Although South Africa had been torn apart by apartheid for decades and Mandela himself had been imprisoned for more than 25 years, he came to power with a hope for peace and unity for his country. With the 1995 Rugby World Cup set to take place in South Africa, Mandela seized upon the opportunity to use the Springboks, a team synonymous with the old separatist South Africa, to achieve unity through sport.
Mason sport management professor John Nauright, who was living in South Africa when Mandela was released from prison, is an expert on sport and the role that it can play in societies in transformation. Nauright has written several books about the role of sport, including: Sport, Cultures and Identities in South Africa and Rugby and the South Africa Nation.
“Using rugby to try to unite South Africa was a huge political gamble on Mandela’s part. Along with gaining the trust of the whites, Mandela also had to have the support of the blacks,” says Nauright. “Part of what he was trying to do was based on the belief that the Springboks would be successful in the World Cup. He took a risk and it paid off. “
As for South Africa stands today, Nauright notes that while Mandela’s plan to unite the country through rugby worked in the short term it is still a highly unequal society. He also points out that there are still some white fans who are using the Springboks as a sort of retreat, a way back to how things used to be.