Late in 1993 I visited South Africa for the first time, Nelson Mandela had been released from prison, and had yet to become President. The country was a powderkeg, with the ANC, the Zulus, the Africaaners and others thinking of violence.
A year earlier South Africa had been awarded the 1995 Rugby World Cup, after being a pariah sporting nation, expelled from the Olympics, World Cups and World Championships of every sport. I walked on the rugby field at Ft. Hare University in Alice, then in a 'homeland' surrounded by Eastern Cape Province, where Mandela played rugby as a student. I was shown around by the vice-chancellor and rugby coach, who was also head of the Youth Wing of the ANC and now the Minister of Sport.
By 1994 with The South African Springboks rugby team trounced by opponents and the black people and politicians wanting their name and uniforms, green and gold, scrapped altogether, Nelson Mandela came to power. He thought that South Africa, The Rainbow Nation, should forgive, and that success in the upcoming Rugby World Cup was important to everyone.
This is the setting for INVICTUS, a Warner Brothers movie starring Morgan Freeman as Mandella, Matt Damon as the Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, and directed by Clint Eastwood. The black Xhosa and the white Africaaner got together to make it happen. In November 1993 I had been covering the South African Cup Final at Soccer City, next to Soweto, and heard the new national anthem sung for the first time:NKOSI SIKELEN iAFRIKA (Lord Bless Africa). It is a combination of five of the official languages, Xhosa, Zulu, Sesothe, Africaans and English. It is very moving.
There is an interesting sub-plot as Mandela brought in experienced white bodyguards to supplement his black ones, and there was tension at first. The black bodyguards and the black population hated the Springboks and what they had stood for, and the few blacks in stadiums cheered for the opposition.
South Africa was thought to only the ninth best team at the 1995 Cup, the first held in one nation and the last to feature amateurs. The champions from 1991 were Australia and at Newlands Stadium, Cape Town, The Springboks triumphed in the opening game 27-18, with Mandela present and the powerful anthem sung prior to kick-off. What a start!!
They went on to defeat Romania 21-8 in Cape Town, and Canada 20-0 in Port Elizabeth. The quarter-final victory at Ellis Park was 42-14 over Western Samoa, and France was beaten 19-15 in the semi-final at Kings Park, Durban.
The final was at Ellis Park, Johanneburg against the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand with the very mighty Jonah Lomu. The outcome takes 20 minutes in the movie. It is 12-12 at full time and towards the end of extra time fly-half Joel Stramsky wins the match and the cup with a dropped goal(he is played by Scott Eastwood, Clint's son. 15-12 is the score and Mandela ,wearing a Springboks jersey with No 6 on the back and a Springboks cap presents the William Webb Ellis Cup to Pienaar. The Rainbow Nation is on its way to reconciliation. A family affair? Another Eastwood son, Kyle Eastwood, a jazz musician, writes some of the music for the movie.
ALL IS NOT WHAT IT SEEMS !!! Apart from Damon being 5' 9" to Pienaar's 6'3 " the movie is magic. 600 visual effects by diector Michal Owens and his CIS Vancouver VFX creativity. I am indepted to Studiodaily.com for technical help. Mouseover, Mayo, Pixologic Zbrush, Houdini, Shake, Motion Capture and more, that are a mystery to me. The six games in the movie are shot on playing fields with green grass.THE REST is digital. 1.000 people were filmed with different movements and there you see before you 65,000 fans chanting, singing, face painted, flag waving and yelling at Newlands, Ellis Park, and elsewhere. Even the grime, the mud, the sweat,the cuts, bruises and bleeding aren't real. Mandela speaking at the United Nations in New York is treated the same way-all the assembled politicians are visual effects.
I thought the action sequences were fantastic, and the visit to Robben Island and Mandela's very small cell, the mines and the hard labour, were moving. As the New Orleans 'Aints and the Indianapolis 'Dolts play in the Superbowl in Miami on Sunday, with loads of padding and time-outs, enjoy the real men in the surreal backdrop of INVICTUS. Go see and enjoy. I did.