It was the defining challenge of nelson mandela's political career to unite the two warring factions of his country, a bold new solution was called for. And nothing was boulder than placing all bets... See More
It was the defining challenge of nelson mandela's political career to unite the two warring factions of his country, a bold new solution was called for. And nothing was boulder than placing all bets on a game of rugby. For mandela, it wasn't just a game, but a perfectly chosen symbol of national pride, if they won, that is. The story was dramatized in the movies starring morgan freeman and matt damon, now debra roberts talks to the players who lived the real life story. Reporter: May 1994, four years after his release from prison, nelson mandela stands before his nation as south africa's first democratically elected president. But beneath the hopes surrounding his rise, the remnants of violence and decades of apartheid are dangerously smoldering, his country still divided is on the brink of implosion. Black versus white. 20 months of increased racial violence. More than 750 people have been killed. It was the worst possible tension you can get between black and white people. No one will silence the white nation. Reporter: As the violence intensifies, mandela has an unconventional idea: Rally international support to bring the 1995 rugby world cup tournament to south africa, and use the world stage to unite his nation. But he is taking a risk because rugby and the south african national team, called the springboks have long been associated with the very worst of the country's history. In south africa rugby was the white man's game. I hated rugby. I hated those ones who were playing rugby, and I hated the springboks even more. Rugby in many ways symbolized apartheid oppression with which black people were being kept out. Reporter: But now the man called madiba, his tribe name, by his followers is set on making peace with his former oppressors. He would become a rugby fan but convincing black south africans to stand behind the long hated springboks would not be easy. You see this cap that I am wearing? I ask you all to stand up behind them because they are our pride. Here is a man wanting us to reconcile with this brutish people who have humiliated us for ages in our own country. I wasn't going to be persuaded even by the great madiba to support the springboks. Who would have believed that south africa would beat australia world champions? Reporter: As the tournament begins, the underdog springboks begin a magical run. South africa has beaten france. Reporter: But as the team advances, something even more improbable happens. Black south africans start to stand behind the national team. We started realizing, you know what, this is our country. This is our brother. We all have to be behind them. Reporter: One team, one country -- that was mandela's vision. And on the morning of the final game, blacks and whites alike were swept up into a shared frenzy of excitement. As mandela drove to ellis park stadium, he saw firsthand what just weeks ago had been unimaginable. Flags everywhere, was just the world cup, the world cup. Reporter: Beneath the stadium, the springboks are preparing, knowing they would never play a more important game. Moments before they take the field, the silent tension in the locker room is broken. The door opened and in walked nelson mandela. Nobody knew that he was coming to visit us. Here's the number one citizen of our country, a black man wearing a springbok jersey. Never in our wildest dreams did we ever expect him to wear springbok on his heart. Reporter: The game was tied. The match remains one of the epic finals in rugby history. As play heads to overtime, mandela sits in the president's box, his great experiment hanging in the balance. I don't think I've ever seen so many grown men on the rugby field crying. Reporter: After the win, nelson mandela wearing the symbol of his former enemies prepared to step onto the field. Nelson! Nelson! It was "nelson, nelson." "Nelson, nelson." I never thought that would hear that at a rugby stadium. We didn't know what hit us. It was just the most phenomenal -- it was really quite a thing. Reporter: The image of the joyous mandela celebrating with the national team is mirrored in every corner of the once broke country. It's a turning point. rejoicing as one. It was freedom all over. The moment that the cup was handed over, to madiba, I told myself these are people that i have to build this country together. There's one south africa. All my hatred is going gain me absolutely nothing. Madiba took my hand and he shook it and said "thank you very much, very much for what you've done for south africa." I said, "madiba, you got it wrong. Thank you for what you have done
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