Invictus — The Sequel

As the US and Algerian soccer teams were resting up for their match in the World Cup, Sylvia and I watched the film Invictus, Clint Eastwood’s deft visualization of Nelson Mandela’s dance of reconciliation with Francois Pienaar, captain of the South African Rugby team, in 1995.

The recently elected Mandela saw the importance of embracing one of the key symbols of old Afrikaner pride – the South African Springboks – within the new South Africa. South Africa’s surprising victory, and his support of the team, was one of the jubilant moments of his presidency.

As I my heart was being warmed by this generous movie, with its superb performances by Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, I remembered the second half of this drama, which played out in South Africa in 1997 and 1998. This was an equally important occasion, but much harder to film for Hollywood.

It turned out that Mandela’s magnanimity did not reconcile the South African Rugby Football Union into the New South Africa. SARFU continued to be a source of opposition to the new order. So Mandela set up a government commission to investigate SARFU and its powerful leader, Louis Luyt.

The struggle between SARFU and the government ended up in court. Mandela agreed to testify in the trial, the contest between the burly Luyt and the sage Mandela being far different from the reconciliation with Pienaar portrayed in the movie. Mandela, many said, could have refused to testify as head of state, but Mandela felt a crucial principle was at stake.

He wanted to demonstrate that no one – not even a head of state – is above the law. This was just as important to him as healing the wounds between Afrikaner and Xhosa, Xhosa and Zulu. It was not merely a matter of nationhood but of constitutionalism. And so he testified in the government’s defense in court.

The government lost its case, though in the end SARFU was reconstituted and drawn into the new order of sports and constitutional culture. I hope that someday a dramatist can find a way to write (and film?) the second act of Mandela’s remarkable presidency.

I wrote an essay, “Seals and Springboks: Theological Reflections on Constitutionalism and South African Culture,” for the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa in July 1998, should you wish to reflect further on these matters.

2 thoughts on “Invictus — The Sequel”

  1. Thank you, John. My mind was already wandering to Invictus! As the Beatles said, “I get along with a little help from my friends…” I’ll correct that.

  2. Just a slight correction to an otherwise astute blog. It was the US and Algerian SOCCER teams that were resting. I don’t think that either of them have a RUGBY team and, if so, they must be in perpetual rest mode.

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