Clint Eastwood, with his movie Invictus, notches another success which uses a rugby championship as a means for examining South Africa’s transition from apartheid. Two characters are highlighted: Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) the new president of South Africa (1994-1999) and the captain of the Springboks, François Pienaar (played by Matt Damon). After being locked up for 27 years, Nelson Mandela returns to politics. He symbolizes the new South Africa in which Black and White have the same rights, and the same opportunities.
Mandela is calm and confident, but fully aware that his country could erupt into political violence with the least provocation. Mandela’s strategy is to embrace his opposition, a tactic that distances him from his core supporters. But some of his fellow compatriots disagree with that.
The main example is when the chief of his bodyguards, who asked more men, refuses to work with the white bodyguards of the former president Frederik de Klerk. Part of being a great leader is setting your organization on a new course well before anyone else can see it.
At that moment in the movie Nelson Mandela surprises his bodyguard by showing integrity and by saying: “The Rainbow Nation starts here. Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here too.” Black people think that they will get revenge from all the persecutions and all the acts of racism. But Nelson Mandela as their leader has already a new plan for his Nation: gather these two populations and create a modern country without racism.
To achieve his goal he uses the white population symbol, the Springboks team, as the key factor. He demonstrates here his ability of visioning. Since South Africa is hosting the 1995 World Cup, Mandela throws his support behind the Springboks, who are representing the country. Those who don’t oppose the sport’s racist undertones have little regard for the team’s ability to compete on a world stage. Nelson Mandela uses the rugby team to change mentalities. The president wants the team to be good enough to impress other rugby nations. However it’s composed by a majority of white players who don’t care about Nelson Mandela’s plan, except for one, François Pienaar.
Pienaar is the captain of the Springboks, and has a role of leader. He wants to inspire his teammates with the use of the right techniques. “How do we get them to be better then they think they can be? That is very difficult, I find. Inspiration perhaps. How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing less will do? How do we inspire everyone around us? I sometimes think it is by using the work of others.” Nelson Mandela, with these words, wants Pienaar to lead by examples and to become a source of inspiration for his teammates but also for his nation. Mandela says some of the most powerful words to achieve convincing Pienaar “This country is hungry for greatness”.
Black people want to change the name of the rugby team, but Mandela shows up at the committee meeting. Mandela explains that removing the name and colors would merely reinforce the fears of the country’s white minority. Besides, he has a bigger plan: to turn a symbol of apartheid into a unifying force. Brenda Mazibuko knows that’s a risky move and she confesses her thoughts to the president “You’re risking your political capital, you’re risking your future as our leader.” Great leaders make the right choice, even when it is not the most popular one.
A popular choice is what the crowd wants, what they understand. That’s why Mandela goes against the unanimity to impose his opinion, and he is not afraid of doing so: “The day I am afraid to do that is the day I am no longer fit to lead” Nelson Mandela’s answer to Mazibuko’s fear. He accepts his responsibilities and changes the majority’s opinion, especially when he talks about “Our enemy”, when he emphasis the importance of rugby for Afrikaners. “You elected me as your leader. Let me lead you now”.
François Pienaar receives the message loud and clear and tries to inspire his teammates by asking them to learn the new national anthem, by visiting Mandela’s cell, by taking them all over the country to play with black children. Some of them don’t want to go there and don’t want to learn this anthem. Pienaar has one sentence that impacts people minds: “Times change, we need to change as well”. That’s the start of this new fighting spirit that leads the Springboks to the World cup championship game. In this movie we have the feeling Pienaar learns from a great leader, Mandela, and he gets how to be one in the last game. All the team is defeated. The Springboks don’t succeed to stop Lomu, the best New Zealand player.
Pienaar takes his responsibilities and leads the others to victory. “Come boys. What the heck are we doing? Lomu is killing us. Forwards, we must start scrumming. We must disrupt them at the first phase. Can’t allow Lomu to get the ball in space. He’s freaking killing us. But listen, if Lomu gets the ball, whoever’s there… James, Joost… hit the fucking guy, hold onto him, hold him. Help will come, help will be there. He may break my arm. He may break my leg. He may break my neck. But he is not going to get past me.“ François Pienaar becomes what Mandela was expecting him to be before the World Cup. He is the captain of the new symbol of South Africa. He has not only inspired his teammates but also all the white population. He is now an example for everyone.
Francois’ last speech is an inspirational one. During the final game against New Zealand, Pienaar impresses his teammates with his communication skills and his energy. “Heads up! Look in my eyes. Do you hear? Listen to your country! Seven minutes. Seven minutes. Defense! Defense! This is it! This is our destiny! Kom Bokke.” These few words go way beyond the game. It’s not a normal game. He wants to help his new family, Mandela’s family which is composed of 42 million people. And they both achieve building this rainbow nation.