On Friday night, I went to my first live rugby game with the young adult group from St. Columba’s Presbyterian Church. The game was played at Ellis Park Stadium, where the South African Springboks famously won the 1995 World Cup, one year after Nelson Mandela was elected president. The game pitted the home team, the Gauteng Lions, against the Western Cape (the province that surrounds Cape Town).
I had been warned going in that the Lions had been performing dismally in recent years and were not expected to win; however, they managed to pull out a landslide victory of 46-28. The second half was especially exciting since the Lions came from behind to fairly quickly take a substantial lead. I won’t try to explain the game or the rules of rugby because they are still fairly unclear to me; but I did begin to understand at least a small part of the game play. And if I did not understand, I had a large stadium of fans to watch for when to stand and cheer!
After having seen a rugby game and been to Ellis Park, I decided it was time for me to rent and watch Invictus, which is a recent (American) movie telling the story of the road to South African victory in the 1995 World Cup.
Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela; Matt Damon plays Springboks rugby team captain François Pienaar. Overall, it is a great story and a well-done movie; I enjoyed watching it and would certainly recommend it to others. However, it was very interesting to watch it having been in South Africa for two months. For starters, neither Damon nor Freeman sound like any South African I have ever met. That’s definitely something I would not have noticed before being here, and it surprised me that I noticed it so quickly.
It was very interesting to watch the euphoria portrayed after the Springbok’s victory. The drama from the movie comes from the fact that South Africa has just come out of the apartheid regime, and there are many unanswered questions about how to create a united country when most lines are still drawn racially. Rugby is a prime example because rugby was seen as a white sport during apartheid; the Springboks in particular were seen as representing the apartheid government. Those who opposed apartheid would often support and cheer for the opposing team. Mandela’s support of the Springboks and the national euphoria portrayed in the film after the country’s victory demonstrates the idea of unity that this event brought.
So, fast-forward fifteen years: the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa. Watching the excitement in the film reminded me of the national unity that I saw during the World Cup. However, although Bafana Bafana (South Africa’s national team) did not make it past the first round, my perception is that this World Cup brought an even great sense of pride, euphoria, and unity to South Africa. The entire country came together, not only to cheer on their national team (and then Ghana when South Africa was eliminated, “BaGhana BaGhana”), but also to create excitement about South Africa and to display national unity off of the field. Many drivers still sport South African flag covers on their side mirrors. Reflecting on the film and this experience, it has been exciting to see how national unity seems to have grown in the past fifteen years, and hopefully it will continue in the years to come.