Invictus, is about the South African national rugby team, the Springboks, and their quest to win the rugby World Cup. The story takes place just after Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa. Mandela knows that the country is extremely divided along racial lines. Whites fear the new government in the hands of the Black majority. Blacks want revenge for the suffering and pain they lived during the Apartheid years, when the white minority ruled and discriminated black people. Mandela understood that for the country to succeed, there must be a reunification.Even those close to him haven’t understood this concept. Mandela had an ideal when he formed his bodyguard group: “The Rainbow Nation starts here. Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here.”
Rugby was the sport favored by White South Africans, whereas Blacks played football. Because the Whites cheered the Springboks, all the Blacks cheered for their opponents. Mandela wanted to use the World Cup as a way to bring all South Africans together in support of the Springboks. He recruits Springbok captain Francois Pienaar for support among the players, all but one of whom is white. The players are as resistant as anyone else.
When Mandela first met with Pienaar, they discussed leadership. Both men believed in leading by example. As the team trained and played, slowly the whole nation began to consolidate around this underdog team. It isn’t just the team that must exceed expectations. It is the nation, so bitterly divided, that must show the world a new way of people living together.
In Invictus, the conflicted character is the entire nation of South Africa. This is obviously a nation divided. They had to learn to forgive and forget.
“Invictus” was a poem that Mandela would recite to himself in his darkest days in the Robben Island Prison. He shared that poem with Pienaar. The idea of being the master of one’s fate, and captain of one’s soul, was a powerful concept for Mandela through his years of imprisonment. It fits well with a team that is facing a trial. It can be a light to a nation that must overcome its internal struggles to find its way to peace.
South Africa went on to become a model for overcoming much of the hatred and fear of its past, especially through the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, lead by Bishop Desmond Tutu. But a small bit of the foundation for reconciliation was based on the nation finding something to hold in common. That turned out to be a rugby team.