Game-chang­ing ‘Madiba Magic’ at work in ’95

Some key events from this week in his­tory are re­flected in the fol­low­ing re­ports from the ar­chives of the Ar­gus’s 160-year-old ti­tles

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL MOR­RIS

ONE EVENING in June 2006, jour­nal­ist John Car­lin found him­self sit­ting op­po­site ac­tor Mor­gan Free­man in a friend’s lounge in Mis­sis­sippi in the US.

Turn­ing to the film star, he said, by no means in jest: “Mr Free­man, I have a film for you.”

In fact, all it was just then was an idea, he wrote in Oc­to­ber 2007 – but, in the 16 months fol­low­ing that Mis­sis­sippi en­counter, he got round to writ­ing “a book about all this”.

It was, of course, Play­ing the En­emy: Nel­son Man­dela and the Game that Made a Nation, the book about South Africa’s 1995 World Cup tri­umph on which the mov­ing film, In­vic­tus, star­ring Mor­gan Free­man, was based.

For Car­lin, who cov­ered South Africa’s tran­si­tion to democ­racy for The In­de­pen­dent in Lon­don, the event was al­ways much more than a rugby game.

As he re­mem­bered telling Free­man on that dis­tant June evening in Mis­sis­sippi: “It’s about an event that dis­tils the essence of Nel­son Man­dela’s ge­nius and the essence of the South African mir­a­cle.”

The World Cup fi­nal on June 24,1995, he wrote, “was the or­gias­tic con­clu­sion of the most un­likely ex­er­cise in political se­duc­tion ever un­der­taken”.

The “Amabokoboko”, as the Spring­boks came to be called at that time, were the in­stru­ment Man­dela sought to use to get white South Africa on side, and to con­vince black South Africa to join him in see­ing the team as a na­tional squad that rep­re­sented na­tional pride and – po­ten­tially – achieve­ment.

The dra­matic con­clu­sion of the match it­self was sharp­ened by the cer­tain truth, as Car­lin wrote in 2007, that, in the eyes of “ev­ery sane rugby pun­dit alive, the Spring­boks didn’t stand a chance”. But they were wrong. “With Man­dela play­ing as an in­vis­i­ble 16th man, Joel Stran­sky, the one Jewish player in the Spring­bok team, kicked the win­ning drop goal in ex­tra time.”

The na­tional re­ac­tion was up­roar­i­ous.

A decade ago, Car­lin ac­knowl­edged that the good­will had not en­dured, recog­nis­ing that “that in­ten­sity of Utopian unity would have been im­pos­si­ble to sus­tain any­where, much less in a coun­try with a his­tory”. No one could know whether “things in South Africa will im­prove, or over time go the way of Zim­babwe”, but there was no doubt Man­dela’s mag­na­nim­ity in 1995 was in­erasable.

Few, back then, would have imag­ined how the ide­al­ism of those days would be tried in the decades to come. Equally, few watch­ing the start of that por­ten­tous Ellis Park match would have risked pre­dict­ing the vic­tory it de­liv­ered.

Here is the re­port from those heady days.

ALL South Africa was re­joic­ing last night, heal­ing its frayed nerves in un­prece­dented cel­e­bra­tion, af­ter their heroic Spring­boks pulled off a dream vic­tory over New Zealand to win the great­est prize in world rugby.

“We didn’t have 60 000 South Africans sup­port­ing us to­day,” beamed vic­to­ri­ous cap­tain Fran­cois Pien­aar, “we had 43 mil­lion South Africans…”

His words were drowned out as Ellis Park, rep­re­sent­ing all South Africa for sure, united in the nation’s great­est sport­ing mo­ment, a 15-12 ex­tra time tri­umph that was se­cured, with only seven min­utes re­main­ing, via the sweet­est Joel Stran­sky drop goal any­one would ever wish to see.

In­deed, to the re­frain of One Team, One Coun­try, One World Cup, one could add… and One Match­win­ner too! Not only did Stran­sky bag the win­ner, he scored all the points as well.

The Spring­boks had gone into the match as un­der­dogs against the men­ac­ing men in black, a huge ques­tion mark hang­ing over their abil­ity to con­tain New Zealand’s huge ex­press train, Jonah Lomu.

The gi­ant wing three­quar­ter had his chances, but never made any head­way. The fear­less Spring­boks snuffed out the threat he posed by tack­ling him of­ten, and with venom.

Amid un­bear­able ten­sion, the two teams bat­tled head to head through 80 min­utes of high-volt­age ten­sion to force a Rugby World Cup fi­nal into ex­tra time for the first time in the tour­na­ment’s his­tory.

Although the All Blacks’ dom­i­nance grew through­out the sec­ond half, it was the Spring­boks, more through guts, de­ter­mi­na­tion and adrenalin than any­thing else, who fi­nally gave South Africa the prize it sought so badly.

A proud Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela was dressed in an iden­ti­cal No 6 jersey to Pien­aar’s and wav­ing his Spring­bok cap to a wildly cheer­ing ca­pac­ity Ellis Park crowd that chanted: “Nel­son, Nel­son, Nel­son”.

In an un­for­get­table mo­ment, he handed over the gold Webb Ellis tro­phy to Pien­aar and then, beam­ing from ear to ear and pump­ing his fists into the air, con­ducted the deaf­en­ing cho­rus.

“Joel Stran­sky, you beauty!” yelled ju­bi­lant cap­tain Fran­cois Pien­aar by way of ap­plaud­ing the cool fly­half ’s match-win­ning drop goal.

Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela presents the Wil­liam Webb Ellis Cup to Spring­bok cap­tain Fran­cois Pien­aar af­ter his team de­feated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup fi­nal played at Ellis Park in Joburg in 1995.

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