Pienaar recalls Madiba's smile

2013-12-16 09:41

Cape Town - Their friendship helped forge a new country, the white rugby player and the black president who came to represent South Africa's racial reconciliation.

Former Springboks captain Francois Pienaar remembered Nelson Mandela in a television interview broadcast Sunday, hours after the anti-apartheid leader was laid to rest in a state funeral in his rural homeland in the country's Eastern Cape.

His lasting recollections of Mandela, Pienaar said, were the former president's smile after South Africa's famous victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, and Mandela's distinctive "booming voice" when they first met.

"(He) made me feel so comfortable, wanted to know who I am, really, really cared about me as a person," Pienaar said.

While South Africa's emotional farewell to Mandela reached a climax as he was buried, the handshake between the two men after the Springboks' triumph over New Zealand nearly two decades ago is enshrined as a lasting image of South Africa's newfound unity just a year after the dismantling of apartheid and the first all-race elections that installed Mandela as president.

"It was so nice afterward to see his smile when he celebrated with us after I had the privilege to lift the cup," Pienaar recalled on South Africa's weekly Carte Blanche program. "And for the first time in our country's very fragile, very young democracy we were world champions. We were all winners."

Mandela died Dec. 5 aged 95 and Pienaar has spoken little publicly since then of the intimate moments he shared with the president that led to that defining moment.

Mandela's role as South Africa's unifier, the peacemaker who led his country from the brink of race war to the inclusive "Rainbow Nation," was perfectly illustrated by his decision to back the Springboks in 1995, a team formerly all-white and closely associated with the previous racist government. The freedom fighter and political prisoner's willingness to also bond with Pienaar, the blond-haired Afrikaans captain, told South Africans of all races that they should come together.

Dressed in his green and gold Springboks blazer, Pienaar spoke in the interview of their very first meeting in the weeks before the rugby tournament, when the player was invited to Mandela's presidential office.

"Why? Why does he want to see me and then what will I say?" Pienaar remembered thinking of Mandela's call. "So I had no clue what the conversation was going to be about. When I was sitting outside his office ... He heard that I was there and he walked out and he was walking toward me. He's a big man. Strong man. I was taken by his size.

"(He) shook my hand and then immediately spoke Afrikaans. Our conversation for the next hour was predominantly in Afrikaans. He shared some wonderful stories about his village, about him, about Robben Island, about sport and about apartheid. And we had this hour-long conversation having tea. I've said this many times. After that meeting I was taken by how genuine a person he is."

Mandela's biggest surprise was wearing one of Pienaar's jerseys to the final, an act that cemented his support for the Springboks, won over rugby-loving whites and changed the attitudes of black South Africans toward a team they previously hated as an extension of apartheid.

"The (dressing room) door opened and in walked Mr. Mandela and he had worn a Springbok jersey and he just said 'Good luck,' and he turned around and my number was on his back and that was me," Pienaar said.

"I was so emotional I couldn't sing the anthem ... I could not sing the anthem because I would just start crying."


  • Olwethu T Mthathi - 2013-12-16 09:53

    Mandela was the opposite version of Idi amin+Hitler.

      Dennis Care Senyonjo - 2013-12-16 19:10

      you must be indian or tanzanian right????

  • Olwethu T Mthathi - 2013-12-16 10:03

    Madiba was a man of love,hope and of forgiveness.We can realy learn so much from this great man.Play your part

  • Beldered Matywatywa - 2013-12-16 10:08

    I don't know why but I fight back tears everytime I recall that moment when Madiba hands over the Cup to Pienaar in his no.6 jersey & green cap. That was just magic to see black & white supporters standing next to each other & others crying & hugging one another after J.Stransky scored the winning try. White supporters didn't show fists of hatred but of jubilantion. Mandela just made the impossible possible when he walked into the stadium & the white crowd roared & chanted "Nelson,Nelson". I will treasure that year forever Madiba. R.I.P

      Ian Borradaile - 2013-12-16 11:02

      I was in a car in Durban 20 mins after the final whistle went, heading for Joe Cools, black dudes mobbed the car as we were waving SA flags and singing Shosholoza, we mobbed them back and loved that moment together. It was amazing.

      Beldered Matywatywa - 2013-12-16 11:34

      No offence just my side of the story.

      Beldered Matywatywa - 2013-12-17 09:34

      @Thomas I think your mentality that a black man is a hijacker & have bad odour just shows that you are incompetent & narrow-minded. I mistakenly thought you are intelligent but seems to me you are just like the rest of the rotten ones. Seems to me some whites like you still have Verwoerd & Botha's vision of segregation that's why I support Malema for racist whites like you. Too bad the National govt's vision of Apartheid & a dream of a seperate government will never be. The stupid NP & AWB fought unfruitfully for it but failed. We the ANC can proudly hold our heads high we fought & won Goliath(NP) the giant. Malema will eventually come into power then we will dump all you rotten ones in Kimberley's hole. We will be left with the whites who has Madiba's vision.

  • WILDSBOK - 2013-12-16 11:47

    I was 17 years old on that day. It changed my life what i thought of black people. Zuma and Malema is not worthy to be South-African. RIP MR. Mandela!!

      Beldered Matywatywa - 2013-12-16 12:06

      Likewise Stefan. Anyone who says Madiba didn't use his magic is just narrow minded. '95 truly marked reconciliation in the form of sport.

      Albertus Lombaard - 2013-12-16 20:34

      Please enlighten us with some detailed facts son, my recollection was that there was a lot of smiles all around. Maybe your face had the expression of eating a lemon but then again you sound that you are stuck per-94

  • King Richie - 2013-12-16 13:02

    albertus ek wag vir jou comment

      Albertus Lombaard - 2013-12-16 20:31

      Richi = glug glug se avatar, serious seun, wou dit nou nie hier se nie maar jy is so predictable

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