President Nelson Mandela | Invictus

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

I recently watched the movie Invictus and it stirred emotions of admiration for Nelson Mandela. In the movie they hint at the time he spent in prison and the racial inequality that he spent his life fighting against. It didn’t get into much detail of his life though and I wanted to know more. As soon as the movie ended I started Googling “Nelson Mandela”. Did you know he spent 27 years in prison? Did you know that in 1994 when he was voted President of South Africa he had only been out of prison for 4 years? He co-won the Nobel peace prize with F.W. de Klerk in 1993 for his efforts in uniting South Africa, while also being on our terrorist list. How ironic is that?


Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar

In the movie Invictus Nelson Mandela inspires the South African Rugby team, that is made up mostly of white players, to win the Rugby world cup as an inspiration to unite the apartheid torn country. At the time South African blacks would cheer against them because the team represented white superiority and apartheid. With South Africa about to host the Rugby World Cup in 1995 Nelson Mandela knows this is the opportunity to unite the apartheid torn country. He invites the team captain, Francois Pienaar and motivates him to represent all South Africans: whites, colored and all races. They go on to win it for all South Africans and it becomes a decisive turning point in their nations history.

Here in the US we remember the greats like Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X who fought and ultimately died for Civil Rights. While we still see some racial inequality we definitely do not live in a time like they did. If you take a look at Nelson Mandela, a man born in 1918 and still alive to this day, you know he’s experienced and seen a good deal of inequality.

He once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Not just anyone, apart from God, can say such profound words without having lived and experienced hatred, racial inequality and no freedom of speech. Through his words we know he climbed and soared above the hate and grudges he rightfully could have held on to. He chose love because he wanted equality for all, not just one particular color or ethnicity.

To help us understand what was going on in South Africa with the apartheid let’s take a quick closer look at some of the details. You’re about to be surprised with how this could have possibly taken place across the ocean while in the US we were moving in the opposite direction. In South Africa racial segregation did exist way back during the colonial times under Dutch and British rule, but apartheid became an official policy of racial segregation in 1948 and lasted till 1994. Apartheid classified everyone into four racial groups: native, white, colored and Asian. Just hearing those words strikes emotions of sympathy, disgust and outrage. Apartheid went on to segregate residential areas by force if needed for 3 decades. By 1970 non-white political representation was abolished. The remaining government segregated black and white people’s education, medical care, beaches and other public services. With the services for black people being inferior to white peoples.

Apartheid Sign English Afrikaans

Apartheid Sign (1948-1994)

In 1948 there was a colored government representation called Afrikaner-dominated National Party (ANC) and this is where Nelson Mandela got into politics. I’m not going to get into all the historical details of what transpired in Nelson Mandela’s life from being a peaceful protester against racial inequality in the ANC to the co-founding of Umkhonto we Size (Spear of the Nation aka MK) in 1961 and leading guerrilla attacks against apartheid government targets.  Violent acts that would eventually sentence him to prison. I like to focus on Nelson Mandela as a man whose character showed through his mistakes and accomplishments.

Todd and I don’t agree or condone his actions of violence but we also know we weren’t there. When the court asked Nelson Mandela why he resorted to violence he replied with this speech, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”  Doesn’t this sound similar to our founding fathers? Remember what Thomas Jefferson wrote in The Declaration of Independence, “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So I’m not going to get into judging or justifying Nelson Mandela’s actions because even he confessed they went overboard. There were civilian casualties which he apologized for, and until July, 2008 the MK along with Nelson Mandela were actually on our terrorist list and couldn’t enter the US without a waiver. We see that mistakes were made and we can learn from them. Let’s not forget his character and enduring strength in the fight for racial equality.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”nelson mandela statue

I’m sure Nelson Mandela had fears and could have chosen to live a quiet life. I’m sure his life was threatened…many times. I’m sure he felt like giving up when going against centuries of history’s racial inequality. I’m sure he felt regret and remorse for mistakes made. Especially civilian casualties from violence. I’m sure he was tempted to concede defeat and surrender when in prison for 27 years. But he didn’t and in 1990 the then President of South Africa, F.W. de Klerk ended apartheid and freed him. Nelson Mandela would go on to spend the next few years leading his political party and winning the 1994 presidential elections – The first universal suffrage elections.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Note: All quotes by Nelson Mandela


  1. Good post. I saw the movie as well and thoroughly enjoyed it. I remember while growing up Mandela being in prison and really did not understand it. I think South Africa, and really the world, is much better off thanks to those like Mandela.

    • Thanks John! The biggest surprise for me was that he was on our terrorist list. It makes sense that he was but it was surprising to be on that and win the Nobel Peace Prize.

  2. I need to see “Invictus.” I’ve always admired the life that Nelson Mandela has led. Thanks for sharing this background information about him.

    People like Mandela, who attach themselves to a higher cause, inspire people for generations to come.

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