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Invictus | An Introduction

[An article I was hired to ghost-write for someone making an introduction at a screening of the movie]

South Africa. A nation with one of the most ironic histories, one which has lived through the darkest days of human rights violation and, conversely, has seen the triumph of its people in bringing justice. What irony that a nation on the continent of Africa, where calling the white race a minority would be an understatement, could experience suppression of non-whites by whites. Tell this story to anyone with no historical knowledge and they might think it fiction. But, such IS the story of South Africa in its dark history of “apartheid.”

Apartheid is a word in Afrikaan, the Dutch-based language of South Africa, meaning “a rigid policy of segregation of the non-white population. In reading the actual history of it in South Africa, one gets the idea this is quite the euphemistic definition. For the struggle of those oppressed led to revolt and even imprisonment. The words “rigid” and “segregation” just do not seem to do it justice. Its architect, HF Verwoerd, a psychologist who studied in Leipzig Germany, had even spoken out against fleeing German Jews seeking refuge in South Africa during the Nazi regieme.

There is an old adage that says “the least amount of people cause the greatest amount of difficulty”. This can be seen throughout history. For it is never a mass of people who inflict injustice upon entire populations. It is always, rather, a small group that seems to achieve such mass destruction through abuse of power. Such is certainly the case as regards South Africa.

The overall tale being quite a story in itself, enter Nelson Mandela, a true hero of legend to many. Imprisoned for his beliefs and efforts to rally the people to oust an oppressive South African government, Mandela served nearly 30 years of a life sentence, rejecting multiple offers of conditional release. Even incarcerated, his resolve never depleted.

In Mandela’s famous “Speech from the Dock” he exclaimed, “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.”

When the political climate finally changed, Mandela was released from prison and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with President F.W. de Klerk and, a short time after, became the first democratically-elected president.

This brings us to the movie “Invictus”, set at the genesis of Mandela’s historic presidency. In the wake of massive change in power and political persuasion, tensions were high between the “Afrikaners”, the original oppressors of the non-white race, and those who suffered unjustly under their original regime.

Here is a story which accentuates the integrity and moral upstanding with which Mandela led the South African people out of the past, through tolerance and forgiveness, past misgivings and attitudes of revenge or retaliation, and into a future of unity.

The film focuses on the story of the national rugby team who were incidentally a painful reminder of the past. Their name, their colors, their presence, all of them triggers for painful memories, so much so, fans cheered for their opponents. But the symbol of their worst nightmare soon became the focus of a united South Africa, spearheaded by a true leader who believed the sport would unify his people as a central focus.

Mandela proves to be true to his ideals he so passionately delineated in his “Speech from the Dock”, especially in his descriptions of “a democratic and free society”, “living together in harmony” and “equal opportunities”

Putting stock in the rugby team as he did, the movie traces his involvement in the sport along with his empowerment of the team itself, including his giving the team a poem entitled “Invictus” to attempt to rally them around more than just a match, but something of much greater importance to a healing nation. “Invictus” is a Latin word meaning “unconquered”.

As an interesting fact, and in that the movie is merely based upon true events, what Mandela actually shared with the team was an excerpt from a speech by Teddy Roosevelt entitled “Citizenship in a Republic” given in 1910. The passage from this lengthy speech is referred to as “The Man in the Arena”, a figure of speech denoting someone who is heavily involved in a situation that requires courage, skill, or tenacity as opposed to someone sitting on the sidelines and watching.

The passage reads as follows:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Such is the setting for this truly inspirational film, one which not only depicts the high points of Mandela’s historic rise to power, but the legacy he left behind. Directed by 4-time Oscar-winning actor and director Clint Eastwood, this film has received a lion’s share of accolades and is critically acclaimed by the New York Times as “an exciting sports movie, an inspiring tale of prejudice overcome and, above all, a fascinating study of political leadership.” And perhaps stated more for what audiences may take away from the film, Rolling Stone described Eastwood’s work by acclaiming “In a rare achievement, he’s made a film that truly is good for the soul.”

And on that note, I give you “Invictus”…

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