The day that Madiba stole our hearts

What is a frequent pleasantry of these trips down memory lane is that more often than not, one has the incredible talent to recall precise details of such events; where we were, with whom we were and on what type of medium we found out the news. Think of 9/11, Hansie Cronjé’s death, the fall of Lehman Brothers, and for those of us old enough to recall, the landing on the moon.

June 24th, 1995, was no different. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that I could ask a group of 1,000 South Africans over the age of 30 the above questions, and they could give me a run-sheet from that particular day, including which coffee-stained couch seat we were all wedged in on, what we ate that night in the midsts of our celebration, and possibly even what colour hair dye Aunty Mavis had at the time.

It’s called nostalgia, and it’s an incredibly powerful thing. Humans attach highly-charged emotions to events, and this aids seemingly hyper-observant memories.

For a country that just one year prior had been through sweeping changes politically, socially and economically, it was an immense achievement and it almost seemed that colour was irrelevant for a day and the ensuing weeks. The only colours that mattered were green and gold, and the rainbow-coloured national flag. Boy, what a turnaround! It was One Team, One Country.

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Mandela and the Holy Grail

Then there was the long-range Joel Stransky drop goal that sealed the fate of the much-fancied All Blacks, the collapsed scrum that prompted referee Ed Morrison to about-turn on his left heel and signal an eventual end to the game, ultimately 100 minutes long, and the prayer group rapidly formed by the Boks after said whistle. These are images that will stick in our minds for eternity.

I’m not sure too many people remember the game itself; there was too much extraneous activity occurring that diverted our attention. Madiba, donning a Bok number 6 jersey, meeting all the players and receiving a standing ovation; the low-flying passenger plane before kick-off; and Captain Courageous François Pienaar receiving cortisone injections before extra time to a knee that had been plundered beyond repair.

However, there are some events that stick out, such as Jonah Lomu being hunted and gathered every single time he came close to the ball or threatened to get a head of steam. As Bok coach, the late Kitch Christie, said after the game about the over-marked Lomu, “He got the ball eight times; we tackled him eight times.” Threat? What threat?

And then there was that moment. Madiba, still wearing his captain’s jersey and Bok cap, shook the hand of his ultimate warrior, Pienaar, while handing over the trophy. That moment seemed to last forever, but that didn’t seem to matter. It will be a long time, if ever, that South Africa will see and feel that way about something like that.

Happy 20 year anniversary, Bok fans!


This article originally appeared on The South African in 2010.

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