I often ask clients who are their heroes. Who do they look up to? For me, it is Nelson Mandela. We spent 6 years in Zambia, during which time Zimbabwe, formerly Southern Rhodesia, fought and won their independence. At that time Rhodesia had about 3 million blacks and ½ million whites and the results of the fighting were horrific. As you look at a map of Africa, Mozambique and Angola were similarly struggling for their independence from Portugal and next in line was South Africa with about 30 million blacks and 5 million whites. The prognosis was not very positive, yet Nelson Mandela, who had spent over 27 years in jail because of his stand on apartheid, was able to come out of jail, forgiving those who had put him there and work toward forming a country where all would be equal, irrespective of color.
John Carlin, captures brilliantly, one of Mandela’s major coups in his efforts at nation-building – the Rugby World Cup, 1995. I was aware of course of the tremendous divide between white and black in South Africa. We had actually travelled through South Africa to visit both Swaziland and Lesotho during the time of apartheid. What Carlin delineates as well, is the further division between the far right and the far left among both blacks and whites, which I really hadn’t thought about. The goal Mandela set himself was to bring all these disparate groups together using of all things, the sport of rugby. Until that time, rugby was seen by the blacks, as a powerful symbol of apartheid, a game for the Afrikaner. Mandela himself confessed that on Robben Island they would cheer for any team that was playing against the Springboks. How to convince the black population to switch sides? And how to convince the white population that Mandela and the ANC were not terrorists bent on overpowering them. It reads almost like a fable or a fairy tale.
Carlin outlines another aspect of the book that I think we can all benefit from. In his own words in the Introduction he states (p.6):
“ The second thought I caught myself having (about writing the book) was that, beyond a history, beyond even a fairy tale, this might also turn out to be an unwitting addition to the vast canon of self-help books offering people models for how to prosper in their daily lives. Mandela mastered, more than anyone else alive (and quite possibly, dead) the art of making friends and influencing people. No matter whether they started out on the extreme left or the extreme right, whether they initially feared, hated or admired Mandela, everyone I interviewed had come to feel renewed and improved by his example. All of them, in talking about him, seemed to shine. This books seeks, humbly, to reflect a little of Mandela’s light.”
I believe Carlin has done just that in spades. He is a brilliant writer. For those of you not in a reading mode, Invictus is also a major motion picture starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the captain of the Springbok rugby team.
In the movie there is a scene where Mandela begins the process of enlisting Pienaar in his efforts to unite the country. He was planting the seed of the idea that winning the world cup would benefit the whole country. South Africa was not expected to get much farther than the quarter finals but Mandela believed that we can inspire ourselves and others to be better than we think we can be. He told Pienaar that at times we need something from outside of ourselves to help us. For me, he said, it was a poem (Invictus), just words, but on Robben Island, when all I wanted to do was lie down, it gave me the courage to stand up. He won Pienaar over and through him the rest of the Springboks and they did in fact go on to win the Rugby World Cup with the whole country behind them. For the Springboks, Mandela was their 16th man.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)