Playing the Enemy
Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made A Nation
A thrilling, inspiring account of one of the greatest charm offensives in historyaNelson Mandelaas decade-long campaign to unite his country, beginning in his jail cell and ending with a rugby tournament In 1985, Nelson Mandela, then in prison for twenty-three years, set about winning over the fiercest proponents of apartheid, from his jailers to the head of South Africaas military. First he earned his freedom and then he won the presidency in the nationas first free election in 1994. But he knew that South Africa was still dangerously divided by almost fifty years of apartheid. If he couldnat unite his country in a visceral, emotional wayaand fastait would collapse into chaos. He would need all the charisma and strategic acumen he had honed during half a century of activism, and head need a cause all South Africans could share. Mandela picked one of the more farfetched causes imaginableathe national rugby team, the Springboks, who would host the sportas World Cup in 1995. Against the giants of the sport, the Springboksa chances of victory were remote. But their chances of capturing the hearts of most South Africans seemed remoter still, as they had long been the embodiment of white supremacist rule. During apartheid, the all-white Springboks and their fans had belted out racist fight songs, and blacks would come to Springbok matches to cheer for whatever team was playing against them. Yet Mandela believed that the Springboks could embodyaand engageathe new South Africa. And the Springboks themselves embraced the scheme. Soon South African TV would carry images of the team singing aNkosi Sikelele Afrika, a the longtime anthem of black resistance to apartheid. As theirsurprising string of victories lengthened, their home-field advantage grew exponentially. South Africans of every color and political stripe found themselves falling for the team. When the Springboks took to the field for the championship match against New Zealandas heavily favored squad, Mandela sat in his presidential box wearing a Springbok jersey while sixty-two-thousand fans, mostly white, chanted aNelson Nelson a Millions more gathered around their TV sets, whether in dusty black townships or leafy white suburbs, to urge their team toward victory. The Springboks won a nail-biter that day, defying the oddsmakers and capping Mandelaas miraculous ten-year-long effort to bring forty-three million South Africans together in an enduring bond. John Carlin, a former South Africa bureau chief for the London Independent, offers a singular portrait of the greatest statesman of our time in action, blending the volatile cocktail of race, sport, and politics to intoxicating effect. He draws on extensive interviews with Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and dozens of other South Africans caught up in Mandelaas momentous campaign, and the Springboksa unlikely triumph. As he makes stirringly clear, their championship transcended the mere thrill of victory to erase ancient hatreds and make a nation whole.
New York : Penguin Press, c2008
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274 p. : ill. ; 24 cm