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
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.