Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nelson Mandela

It is about at this time of the year when we take stock of those notable and famous people who passed on.  This year three of those people stood out in my mind:  Nelson Mandela, Tom Clancy, and Peter O'Toole.  Nelson Mandela, rightfully, had the lion's share of the media attention.  A few people asked why I didn't write about him.    The answer is simple.  I sometimes like to wait a few years and see how persons image changes through the lens of history.  My guess is that Mandela's image will only improve with age.   These requests got me to thinking about the great man and this piece is the result.

What impressed me about Mandela was his calming style and dignified presence.  He guided the country through a relatively smooth transition Apartheid to Democracy with disrupting the economy.  He did this by not disenfranchising the heavily white based business leadership and ownership that made South Africa the largest and most vibrant economy in Africa.  This is in contrast to what happened to in Rhodesia and other countries when they transitioned from the vestiges of colonial rule.  

Apartheid was a pretty ugly system.  The haves and have-nots were polarized along racial lines and the country made a relatively smooth transition.  Is everything perfect in South Africa today?  That is debatable but it seems that the country still works pretty well.

Clint Eastwood directed a 2008 movie called Invictus starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar.  Pienaar was the captain of the South Africa National Ruby Team - The Springboks.  Mandela was elected President and took office on May 10, 1994.  There was a very real fear that the country could turn to chaos or that the black South Africans now in power might take actions that would drive the white business leaders out of the country.  Mandela realized that the economy needed to stay solvent and vibrant to ensure a smooth transition.  South Africa was about to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup and Mandela saw this tournament as a way to unite the country.   Up until then, rugby was a sport supported and followed by the Afrikaners and the Springboks were a symbol of Apartheid.  Mandela enlisted the support of Pienaar in his plan.  The movie tells the story of these two men and their role in the transition of South Africa.

At a critical stage of the movie plot, Mandela was encouraging Pienaar and gave him a copy of the poem, Invictus by William Ernest Henley (1849 - 1902), that Mandela used in prison to help buoy his spirit and will to persevere.

Like many sports movies, such as Miracle, I have watched this movie several times.  I have read the poem several times. 

Was the movie an idealistic Hollywood version of reality?  Less so than other sports related movies such as Cool Runnings which was a totally fictitious story of the first Jamaican bobsled team.  Read more on the man and the historical accuracy of the movie:  Newsweek - Invictus.   

President Obama quoted from on December 10, 2013 in a speech on the passing of Mandela.


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.

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