Movie Review: Invictus

Nelson Mandela’s recent struggles impelled me to rent the movie Invictus, which I had never seen. The movie was made in 2009, directed by Clint Eastwood and starred Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as the Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks, the South African Rugby team.
One of the many cultural chasms between black and white South Africans manifested itself in sports. White South Africans were tenaciously devoted to their rugby team, the Springboks. During the era of Apartheid black South Africans generally rooted for whatever team the Springboks happened to be playing. After many years of bitter struggle, Nelson Mandela was released from prison on Robbin Island and subsequently elected president of South Africa. The movie reveals the various ways Mandela sought to bridge the gap between the white and black populations in South Africa. The first thing he did was to call a meeting of the staff of the government and assure the white government workers that, although they were free to leave if that was what they wanted, they were not going to be fired and were most welcome to stay. He then made it a point to include white Afrikaners in his personal bodyguard.
The African National Congress, Mandela’s political party unanimously passed a measure advocating the abolition of the Springboks. Mandela single-handedly dissuaded them from this measure. He realized that depriving the white population of an institution that they were strongly emotionally attached to would do profound damage to any chance of creating racial harmony in the new South African society. Mandela became the Springboks’ most avid and devoted fan, and encouraged them to compete for the world rugby cup. When a white television journalist reminded Mandela that, when a prisoner at Robbin Island, he always rooted for the team the Springboks were playing, he replied, “If I can’t change, how can I expect other people to change?”
Matt Damon was splendid in the role of Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks. Mandela invited him to tea and sought to inspire him to lead his team to victory. He quoted to Pienaar a poem that had given him comfort and courage during his years as a prisoner on Robbin Island. The team had been doing poorly but somehow found the impetus to train intensely and improve their strategy and they began winning their games. In 1995 the Springboks made it to the world cup and defeated the hitherto invincible New Zealand All Blacks.
Watching this movie, I could not imagine anyone more suited to transitioning South Africa from an apartheid state to a democracy than Nelson Mandela. His instincts were unerring. I fervently wish that the world had more leaders of his caliber.

Invitus, by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gait
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.

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