Gabriel Banda Peace Notes, 06: Nelson Mandela and Invictus, Part I

This is a piece in memory of the life of Nelson Mandela, 1918 – December 05, 2013. In  February 2010, I did, in my regular “Another View” column in the Post Newspapers of Lusaka, Zambia, two pieces on lessons from Nelson Mandela and the Clint Eastwood “Invictus” movie. The first part came out on Friday, February 12, 2010. The second part came out  Friday, February 19, 2010. The following, with acknowledgement of Post Newspapers for publishing, is the first part (the second part will also be posted) :

Another View Column, Friday, February 12, 2010. Post Newspaper, Lusaka.

 Invictus and Mandela’s Lessons


 Gabriel Banda

I BELIEVE this is one of the most moving movies you may ever experience. Through “Invictus,” veteran actor and film maker Clint Eastwood has given the world a priceless gift.

 With performances by Morgan Freeman, as Nelson “Madiba” Mandela, and Matt Damon as rugby captain Francois Pienaar, Invictus’ good screen play, directing, acting, and production combine into a moving story.

 The Invictus movie happens around Nelson Mandela’s prison release and the challenges he and the new South Africa have. The picture starts with a powerful scene of the racial divide as, right across a road, while blacks celebrate, whites are skeptical of Mandela’s release and “the day our country went to the dogs.”

 Released on February 11, 1990 after some 27 years in prison for challenging the apartheid system, on May 10, 1994, following democratic elections, Mandela becomes South Africa’s president. South Africa must move from a nation long legally divided by race and tribe, through the evil of apartheid, to a society of all human beings living in harmony. Mandela must deal with “black aspirations and white fears.” Some white persons feared black persons would “take our jobs and drive us into the sea.”

Nelson Mandela uses the 1995 rugby union world cup, hosted by South Africa, as step towards forgiveness and reconciliation in the nation. The goal is “one team, one country.”  Mandela tries to practice forgiveness and reconciliation, starting right with his office staff. Like in the wider society around them, given apartheid’s trauma on victims and perpetrators, reconciliation is not easily expressed.

From the good acting by Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge), and black and white colleagues in Mandela’s bodyguard unit, clearly, those involved do not hide their distrust for each other. Yet, if society has to healthily survive and grow, members must live and work together. Teamwork must start from within. It must start with us. We must relate well to those around us.

Revenge and vengeance can weigh us down. “The Rainbow Nation starts here,” Mandela tells staff, and “Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here.” And, “forgiveness frees the soul, removes fear. That is why it is a very powerful weapon.”

Mandela’s task is both moral and political necessity. Success requires all persons and all sectors of society and will help all. He must inspire. Rugby provides one platform for reconciliation.

But the challenges apply to the rugby team members and their world cup task.  For many black South Africans, rugby and the national Springboks team were still considered symbols of the apartheid oppressor. In 1995, Boks had only one black player, Chester Williams, in the movie played by McNeil Hendricks, in real life also a former rugby union player.

Like at Mandela’s office and the bodyguard unit, Springboks members must also learn new things and ways of relating to others. They must find what bonds people. They must open themselves to other possibilities and ways of doing things. Players end up willingly singing the “Nkosi Sikelel’ Africa” anthem many of them, without knowing its meaning, had been opposed to.

A lesson is that forgiveness is actually not weakness but, as Nelson Mandela says, a great weapon that releases the one who forgives. Another lesson is that the human being is equipped to achieve great things. The lesson some who have risen over hardship have realised is, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

It is within us to improve our individual situations and, working with others, group situations. In prison, the words of one poem helped sustain Mandela. He shared this with rugby captain Francois Pienaar. “Invictus,” composed by William Ernest Henley in the late 1800s, says:

“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 Henley himself experienced harsh struggles, and was physically disabled after an amputation to treat TB of the bone. “Invictus” is Latin for unconquered.

The movie covers president and persons in various situations, including Francois Pienaar’s racially cynical father, the maid at their home, and the boy who picks up cans. We find, through Brenda Mazikubo, Mandela’s Chief of Staff played by British actress Adjoa Andoh, and others in Mandela’s office, that many persons move events we come across.

At the rugby finals, Mandela wears rugby shirt number 6, the same as captain Francois Pienaar, thus bonding spiritually with Francois. The under rated Springboks must face reputable teams. They also have been facing their fellow citizens, the black Africans not happy with the relationship involving rugby, an Afrikaner passion, and apartheid.

In the field, they eventually face New Zealand, the “All Blacks” team. New Zealand has brilliant players like Jonah Lomu, played by rugby player Zak Feau’nati. His presence intimidates many. The New Zealand team is known for its mental intimidation of opponents. They do Maori battle chants before a match starts. Shaken, opponents lose before they even start the game. To win against New Zealand, the Boks must learn and practice, “I am master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

 “Invictus” is more than about rugby, South Africa, and apartheid. The message is for all times and all persons. It is about letting go. It is about healing the self and society. It is about reaching the soul of another. It is about realising and using the strength within us. It is about new beginnings.

Invictus is about leadership and mentoring. Mandela, the rugby team, and South Africa are models for deep lessons of life taking place.  It is about building respect for the humanity of the other. Good fruits happen.

Invictus is built with drama and tension. I believe Invictus is a masterpiece in technique, story, and message. Tackling international, multicultural, transcultural, or universal issues and personalities, it appeals to many worldwide. It can be watched together by family members.

However, some aspects of the Invictus movie raise questions, or one could have done differently. I believe there is insufficient pictorial mechanism to show transition from Mandela’s release, in 1990, to swearing in as president, in 1994, when the story settles down.

The Invictus movie story is based on John Carlin’s book Playing the Enemy. Screenplay is by Anthony Peckham, South African born. Morgan Freeman is one of the Executive Producers.

Invictus has a transnational team. There is good performance by body guards, sports minister, government officials, and ruling ANC party cadres. Respected screen actress Leleti Khumalo plays aide Mary. Clint Eastwood’s sons effectively play some roles, with Scott Eastwood, who appears cloned from an earlier Clint, often seen close to captain Francois and acting as player Joel Stransky. Older son, Kyle Eastwood, does some good music. And the real Chester Williams was involved in coaching the actors in rugby.

This year, in fact yesterday, February 11, 2010, marks exactly twenty years since Nelson Mandela’s release from Verster Prison. He was released by President Frederek De Klerk after negotiations and efforts by many in the world, key amongst them Zambia’s President Kenneth Kaunda. This is another time for reflection.

Invictus is a movie that can greatly add to your life and bring change, right now. Invictus should not just be in every cinema hall, but every home and class room.


         –   GCB, February, 2010. LUSAKA. This copy of the reflection posted December 10, 2013.


Based in Lusaka, Zambia, the author is involved in writing, social development, and peace issues.


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