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Mandela

I have had the pleasure over the last few days to read an old book, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, by John Carlin (2008). Then for good measure I watched “Invictus,” the derivative movie starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, and directed by Clint Eastwood.

Carlin looks at the remarkable career of Nelson Mandela through the lens of the South African rugby team in the World Cup competition of 1995.

Carlin looks at the remarkable career of Nelson Mandela through the lens of the South African rugby team in the World Cup competition of 1995. I’m not that much of a sports fan and know little about rugby, but that’s ok. I learned something. 

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The real point is how Mandela grasped that, having won the first free elections in South Africa, rugby would be a key to bringing the once-ruling Afrikaner minority into a unified country. Rugby was preeminently an Afrikaner sport, disdained by the Black majority. Mandela saw that by embracing it he could lead the Black majority to see the Springboks as their national team, and bring the Afrikaners to see the they were part of one South African nation.

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In this moment when most political leaders are smaller than they appear, it is gratifying to look back at someone who literally created the new, post-apartheid South Africa, taking a path that no one else even conceived. That the country today is no paradise on earth is no knock on Mandela. He did his part—and it’s still far better than apartheid.

In case you hadn’t noticed, leaders matter, for good or ill. He was one of the most remarkable good ones.

John Peeler

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