Cap­tain The na­tion’s

To­day, 21 Icons sea­son two fea­tures its fifth icon, Fran­cois Pien­aar, the for­mer Spring­bok cap­tain who led his team to vic­tory in the 1995 rugby World Cup

CityPress - - T# -

The 21 Icons portrait of the for­mer Spring­bok rugby cap­tain pro­vides a glimpse into the mind of Fran­cois Pien­aar, who led South Africa to glory in the 1995 rugby World Cup.

He is de­picted as the con­sum­mate fam­ily man, stand­ing in a kitchen, sur­rounded by the mark­ings of do­mes­tic­ity: dirty cof­fee cups, dish cloths and a bas­ket of laun­dry. The cam­era cap­tures him look­ing up at a black­board fea­tur­ing a lengthy “todo” list. Some of the items are the ev­ery­day chores a typ­i­cal subur­ban fam­ily man has to take care of: fetch­ing the dogs, for ex­am­ple, or ar­rang­ing a lift for the kids to get to rugby prac­tice.

In the midst of th­ese mun­dane chores, two items – al­ready crossed off – stand out: “win World Cup” and “unite the na­tion”. The portrait ably de­picts the two sides of Pien­aar’s per­son­al­ity: a grounded fa­ther who cher­ishes his con­nec­tion to his fam­ily, and a man who can claim an ex­tra­or­di­nary, un­par­al­leled ac­com­plish­ment.

Pien­aar seems slightly taken aback by the im­pact South Africa’s World Cup tri­umph had on the coun­try. He ex­plains: “I think it was only af­ter the tour­na­ment that I re­alised it was so much more than just an­other sport­ing event. Cer­tainly, dur­ing the tour­na­ment, I had a very good sense that some­thing spe­cial was hap­pen­ing in our coun­try.

“It was amaz­ing to be served break­fast in the ho­tel by a black lady who said: ‘You must eat enough be­cause to­mor­row you guys are play­ing Aus­tralia.’ It struck me that, firstly, she knew who we were play­ing against and, se­condly, she was gen­uinely con­cerned that I would have enough to eat.”

He re­calls wit­ness­ing the be­gin­ning of a groundswell. “When we got to the fi­nal, ob­vi­ously I knew it was huge for South Africa, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would be so big.”

It was only af­ter the event that Pien­aar truly grasped the enor­mity of the process the coun­try had been through in just six weeks. “It ac­tu­ally healed the na­tion and made us proud to be to­gether; to be one. We be­came world cham­pi­ons,” Pien­aar re­flects.

This, he con­tin­ues, is the uni­fy­ing power of sport. “When­ever there’s a World Cup, whether it’s for soc­cer, rugby, cricket or the Olympic Games, when an ath­lete par­tic­i­pates, he or she runs for ev­ery per­son in their coun­try. That’s so pow­er­ful. It makes peo­ple proud. It makes them stand up and take no­tice of hard work and re­spect, dig­nity and self­less­ness – all those things that go into sport. It’s a very pow­er­ful ve­hi­cle.”

Since that day, Pien­aar has con­trib­uted to the coun­try in other ways, most no­tably through his Make a Dif­fer­ence Foun­da­tion. Fo­cus­ing on

PHOTO: DA­MON HY­LAND / THE GINKGO AGENCY

FAM­ILY FO­CUSED

Fran­cois Pien­aar poses dur­ing the portrait shoot for 21 Icons in Ke­nil­worth, Cape Town

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