The other day, in order to find a movie I hadn’t watched before that started with the letter ‘I’ (thanks to Goal #90 on my 101 things in 1001 days list), I hired Clint Eastwood’s ‘Invictus’. Yes, OK, I am a little late to the party! Most South Africans and even many foreigners will have watched that film long ago, but it had never held all that much interest for me before.
It’s the true story of how the then newly elected President Nelson Mandela used the beloved South African sport of rugby (formerly a ‘white’ sport and almost exclusively Afrikaans) to begin to unify South Africans. When we won the Rugby World Cup in 1995, it was an enormous achievement. It was also probably the first time that people of all our races began to hope that we might actually become a harmonious Rainbow Nation.
Clint Eastwood and his team did a fantastic job telling a story that I’d previously only heard bits and pieces of. (The film sure gives a better impression of South Africans than ‘District 9’ or ‘Elysium’ do! If or when you watch those movies, please don’t believe their take on South Africans. Gag!)
Anyway, the unexpected thing was that as I watched ‘Invictus’, I found myself unable to stop smiling. It started with a little chuckle at hearing Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon speak in South African accents (which they mimicked very well, but it’s always weird to hear how other nations think we sound!). But as the film progressed I couldn’t help smiling to see such a true reflection of so many aspects of South African culture and our complicated interracial interaction. Then at the end the winning of the rugby game was so infectious, my cheeks hurt from grinning so much.
Watching that film brought back memories of the 1994 elections and the 1995 rugby game. I was still a kid back then and thus not very involved in the fanfare that surrounded all the changes in our country. But I recall the craziness after our win on that field. The celebrating went on for weeks, and I didn’t need to leave home to be part of it. Around the neighbourhood and on the TV I heard and saw the jubilation. I remember it being quite ridiculous sometimes, with one van of rugby fans devotedly (and drunkenly) belting out, ‘We won because we won…!’
My family wasn’t into sport, but I remember even my parents being rather proud of the Springboks and their thrashing of New Zealand’s All Blacks. Words like ‘haka’ and ‘scrum’ suddenly made sense, and everywhere was the feeling that we’d done it. Not we, the whites. We, the South Africans. All of us. Indians, Coloureds, blacks, whites and everything in between… we’d done it as a nation, and shown the world after the long years of boycotting and trade embargoes that South Africa was a country full of fight and worthy of respect.
Weird how sport can do that.
Also weird how I felt nothing like that when the Soccer World Cup came to SA in 2010. Duuuude! If we thought the fans were nuts 15 years before, 2010 was insane! But I just wasn’t interested. My own little world was too busy and I was little more than irritated at all the fuss, traffic and noise. And how I hated those vuvuzelas! (I still do. On my unpatriotic days I think such a backward device could only have come from our messed-up country…)
You see, that’s the problem, and the next thought that I had as the credits to ‘Invictus’ rolled. It’s been a long time since the Rugby World Cup. A lot has changed. Of course the most recent and most memorable change is that Mandela has passed away. But over the last 19 years our country has slowly slid from its euphoric high of 1995 for other reasons too.
Our government officials become more corrupt with every passing year. Yes, I know there’s probably no such thing as an honest politician, but Jacob Zuma is another beast altogether. Tell me, when last was your president accused of rape, polygamy, corruption, hate speech, fraud and deliberate extortion of his people? The crime, the poor levels of education, the high costs of living, the new e-toll system and all the old underlying racial rifts make this a shaky nation at best.
The only reason this is on my mind at all is that we’re coming up for our national elections in a few months’ time. You can feel the pressure building everywhere. Oh, how we already miss the wise, humble ruling of good old Madiba. He wasn’t president for long enough, but even after his term had ended there was the sense that while he was still alive, maybe he’d keep this cultural melting pot from boiling over.
Now as we head for major elections, there’s a sense of dread among many South Africans that this could be the last chance for the opposition parties to overthrow (peacefully and democratically, we hope) the clowns who currently lead this land. If Zuma or someone like him gets to rule South Africa for another few years, fears are great that we’ll end up like our poor neighbour Zimbabwe did.
Hmmm. It doesn’t feel right to be posting about politics on my cheerful blog, does it?! It’s out of character for me to even care about these things, really, because I have very little interest in politics of any kind. I just want to live my simple quiet life and leave the ruling of the country up to someone else. But of course I understand that I have to play a part in choosing that ruler, too.
Selah, South Africa – pause and consider.
It’s a good time to watch ‘Invictus’, I think. We all need the reminder that this country can achieve the seemingly impossible. This country needs another miracle election; another watershed change that will begin to reverse the damage that Zuma and his cronies have done. We don’t want the old white government back – everyone knows by now that that won’t work anymore – but neither can we stand the ongoing worry that this country is currently led by men who just don’t know what they’re doing!
In the end, within the limited sphere of my life I can do only three things to make any difference in what happens to this country.
I can cast my vote at the next elections, knowing it counts.
I can aim for kindness and understanding in my daily dealings with South Africans of all races.
And above all, I can pray fervently for this beautiful land, knowing that ultimately it is God who makes or breaks rulers and places them where He wants them in order to fulfil His specific purposes in history.
Ah, how everlastingly peaceful and beautiful and just His reign will be one day when His kingdom comes!