In pondering the words and life of Nelson Mandela this morning, a strange thought experiment filled my imagination. I quickly dismissed it as impossible, but then realized the Mandela moment that inspirited the thought experiment was also considered impossible in its day. So maybe, just maybe …
The event took place in 1995. Mandela had been president of South Africa for about a year, and he had been working for national reconciliation, but with half a century of brutal apartheid fresh in everyone's memory, it was slow going, as one can well imagine. But the Rugby World Cup would give Mandela an opportunity to put his money where his mouth was.
This was the first World Cup that South Africa had been allowed to participate in since the end of apartheid—a boycott that Mandela himself had helped orchestrate. But the occasion was a mixed blessing, to say the least, for black South Africans. Rugby was considered the sport of Afrikaners, the despised oppressors, and the national team, the Springboks—and especially their green and gold jerseys—were the symbol of that hated and bloody era. Whenever the Springboks played at home, the blacks who would come to watch were confined to a restricted area, and they always rooted for the opposing team.
Ironies abounded now, since the World Cup was hosted in South Africa, and further, when the dust had cleared from all the preliminary matches, only the All Blacks from New Zealand and the Springboks of South Africa were left standing. Mandela had given the Springboks a new slogan, "One team, one country," but the reality was far from the slogan.
On the day of the final game between Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks, the crowd—with ...1