Nelson Mandela is celebrated globally as an icon for the exemplary traits he portrayed as a leader. To date, his virtues are discussed and taught to people of all ages as a symbol of true leadership. He is mainly known for his role in fighting racial discrimination in South Africa, unifying the nation, and championing for a better Africa. To achieve this, Mandela played special focus on sports and culture. He used sports and culture as tools to unify the nation. It is within this context that this paper gives a detailed exposition on Nelson Mandela’s relationship to sports and culture and how he used the same to achieve his goals. The paper further discusses the impact he had on these two phenomena.
South Africa’s History of Inequality and Racism
During South Africa’s colonial period, scholars argue that things took a turn for the worse once the 1913 Land Act was passed. This act held that it was illegal for the African’s to dwell in the same regions or areas as the colonial whites. As such, Africans were pushed into settlements on the low productive areas while the colonizers settled in the highland regions which were highly productive. Further, Africans were not allowed to engage in cash crop production. The activity was reserved for the colonizers. As such, Africans were forced to work in the farms of their colonizers as casual labourers. These factors brought the division of homes with some family members moving into the black population settlements while others went in search for jobs in the European populations. Moreover, in these plantations, the black workers were overworked and treated harshly. As inequality, oppression, and discrimination became more rampant in South Africa, so did the calls for a resistance uprising among the Africans. Although Africans did not have any weapons at the time, they knew that standing up together against their oppressors gave them a better chance to champion for their freedom. It is this specific aspect that brought about the formation of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1913. The primary role of the ANC was to defend the non-white South Africans from oppression. Thirty years later, a young Nelson Mandela would join the ANC and move to form its youth division which was named the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). As years progressed, Mandela’s efforts in the party would see him rise to be elected as ANC’s president. Mandela had great ethical and moral standards. As such, he worked on channelling the same to ANC. His aim was for ANC to go about their struggle in a manner that upholds great morals, ethics and standards which would also provide guidance to future generations. However, his initial plans did not work as expected. Instead of the colonialists white engaging them back in a similar manner, they resulted to excessive use of force. One of the most devastating incidents is in 1960 when police officers shot live bullets at a group of peaceful protestors in Sharpeville. During this incident, 69 people were killed. This incident made Mandela reconsider his approach and the need for ANC to have an armed wing. His thoughts on an armed wing were borrowed from the approach that was being used by other Africans across the continent in their fight against colonialism.
Nelson Mandela’s Arrest and Influence Behind Bars
Mandela was arrested severally on different accounts during his tenure as ANC’s leader. In 1961, Mandela and his colleagues planned and executed a nationwide labor strike which paralyzed the country for three days. This saw him get arrested and sentenced to a five years jail term. Two years later, he was again arraigned in court and charged with more charges of political offenses and crimes of sabotaging the government and nation. As a result, Mandela and some of his colleagues from the ANC leadership were sentenced to life imprisonment. It is during his time in prison that Mandela would develop a great interest in sports. He was locked up in a maximum security prison in Robben Island. The conditions at this facility were brutal, especially for the native Africans. Mandela tried to find solace in sports. He would spend time watching others engage in sports and at times engage in them too. Mandela organized various sporting tournaments in the facility. He mobilized the teammates to form various soccer teams which would engage each other in weekly matches. To him the football matches were more than a competition, they were a symbol of unity and a beacon of hope. The matches helped the inmates feel alive at a time when all seemed lost. He addressed the significance of sports in prison facilities 27 years later upon his release. To Mandela sport was a great tool which enabled him to do what he was most passionate about; uniting people. Through sports, he was able to the impact the society locked up in prison. However, his efforts faced numerous setbacks from the authorities who often made efforts to dismantle his efforts.
The significance of Springbok
During the 20th Century, South Africa developed a great interest in the rugby sport and Springbok was at the centre of this attention. Springbok had grown to become a great, strong and successful team. It has successfully secured a slot on the global map. As Springbok engaged in international tournaments, it gave many South Africans hope that their nation was capable of attaining great accomplishments despite the numerous challenges they were facing. Springbok also faced similar challenges with segregation being the main challenge. Springbok’s leadership was inclined based on racial line. It was a great challenge for the native Africans to obtain a chance to represent their country in the international matches. To Mandela, ANC, and the entire nation Springbok was a symbol of their values and potential. In 1976, there were some attempts to bring sanity to the sporting fraternity. Reforms were implemented which allowed people from all races to engage in similar sporting activities. However, the native Africans still faced multiple challenges. For example, many of them did not obtain the necessary transportation to go and train at the various training facilities. Also, they still stood a very small chance of being selected to go and represent their nation in the international matches. The whites were more privileged. This particular aspect brought about an outcry from the international community. As such, Springboks began receiving multiple backlash from the international community. The most vocal country on the matter was New Zealand. New Zealand strongly condemned the racial discrimination that was evident in Springboks. As a result, there were multiple protests whenever Springboks had a match with the All Blacks. At times the matches would be canceled whenever the protests escalated. As the matter got more global outcry, South Africa was banned from participating in international matches until they addressed the issue. This was a major setback to the rugby sport in South Africa and specifically Springbok. As a result, Springbok’s leadership was forced to engage the ANC in consultative talks on how to finds a solution that would enable them to save their beloved rugby sport. After numerous deliberations, the parties agreed to form one umbrella union tasked with overseeing the matter. The body formed was the South African Rugby Football Union. The union was formed in 1992, the same year Mandela was released from prison. By this time, many native Africans viewed sports and specifically Springbok as symbols of racial discrimination. However, Mandela addressed the matter and championed for the entire nation to support and celebrate their sports and teams as symbols of national unity. Through this, sports reclaimed its place as part of the nation’s heritage.
Mandela and the Springbok Jersey
Fans usually celebrate team jerseys as they are a symbol of the team or the players themselves. However, during the apartheid era in South Africa, this was not the case. Due to the continued racial segregation within Springbok, the native Africans had developed a great dislike for the team. As a result, many of them would publicly cheer against the team during international competitions. This was also a form of protest. Many native Africans disliked the Springbok jersey as well as anyone who wore it. To them, the jersey symbolized continued oppression.
Just like he had been doing all over the country, Mandela made an effort to unify the Springbok team and the native Africans. He wanted the team to have a great glory as a national team which would be celebrated by the entire nation. To achieve this, Mandela made use of the team’s jersey which was loathed by many. During the World Rugby Final in 1995, he wore the team’s jersey. His actions were seen as unorthodox and caught the attention of many. However, he aimed to lead the nation towards harmony and unity by advocating for people from all races to set aside their differences, forgive each other, and move forward as a united front. Mandela’s approach yielded results. Springbok’s approval ratings improved drastically as many native Africans changed their perception of the team and began viewing it as part of their national heritage. The effect was not only felt in sports but the society as well. Mandela’s message of forgiveness, harmony, and unity helped reduce the racial tensions that existed in the country. As people developed a more positive perception towards Springbok and sports, the same happened to their perception of people from other races. This made the nation move a step closer towards realizing national unity and harmony.
Throughout his life, Mandela’s main trait that stood out was his unifying factor. He was able to transform a nation that was deeply divided along racial lines and embedded in hatred into one unified nation whose people live in harmony. On several occasions, Mandela acknowledged the role played by sports in attaining national unity. He often referred to sports a tool more powerful than governments with regards to promoting unity. Mandela realized sports provides people with a common ground they can all enjoy and celebrate together. This common ground is what makes it a unifying factor. As such, he knew that through sports he would be able to attain his dream of building a nation where everyone felt a sense of belonging. Further, he understood that sports provide all its fans with some sort of pride which makes them all share similar emotions for a moment based on their team’s progress. He capitalized on this and remained optimistic. He might not have been certain of the results at the moment, but his optimism and determination brought about a new dawn for the nation and its future generations. Apartheid was abolished in South Africa, and Mandela went ahead to become the nation’s first black president. He used his new position to solidify unity, harmony, reconciliation, and equality in the nation. He also paid special attention to promoting the nation’s sports.
Nelson Mandela was a phenomenal leader who had a great impact on the society and sports. His continuous efforts in championing for equality, unity, and reconciliation despite the numerous setbacks he encountered won him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. However, one aspect of his revolutionary leadership that cannot be left out is his use of sports as a tool for promoting unity and the impact he had on it. From his time in prison to his term as president, Mandela embraced sports and used it to attain his goals. In the process, he impacted sports positively such as in the case of Springbok where he turned it from a symbol of oppression to a beacon of hope. All these efforts had a positive impact on the South African community.