Sport as Catalyst: Change in South Africa

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Change is universal and constant. In the individual, the family, the community, the society, and the nation, it is an unyielding force that drives us. The question, however, is not whether or not change drives us forward or backward; change obviously can only move forward. The question is whether change drives us upward or downward, or even both. In the case of South Africa immediately post-Apartheid, there can be no denying that the force of change propelled the nation forward. Whether change was driving South Africa upward or downward, though, depended largely on the race of whom you were asking.
According to Leslie and Finchilescu (2013), at the time approaching the end of Apartheid, black South African writers much more often wrote in various forms of media envisioning an optimistic future for their country than did white writers (pp. 340-355). This suggests that white South Africans largely saw the end of apartheid as symbolizing blacks being free to overrun their country and destroy their way of life. Blacks, however, saw it quite differently. The majority saw the future as an opportunity for reconciliation through peace and cooperation. (Leslie and Finchilescu, 2013). It is apparent that the country was still quite divided. This is the dilemma that Nelson Mandela faced in 1994, when he was elected President of South Africa. This is also set the stage for Clint Eastwood’s 2009 film, Invictus.
In Invictus, we see how sport can serve as the catalyst for social change. The South African national rugby team, the Springboks, would bring the country together and promote reconciliation between the optimistic blacks and the fearful whites. As we know, sport is a microcosm of society, and what is true for society must also be true for sport. Likewise, sport can often influence society just as much. Rugby, the sport that most represented white elitism and dominance in South Africa, would come to represent national pride and unity behind a team.
Clearly, the country came together around the team and the cup. However, a more important consideration is this: was the change truly as lasting and effective as the movie suggests? In its denouement, Invictus implies that progress would chug on steadily from that field until today, but it seems that the real story of modern South Africa’s progress is much more convoluted.
The opening of Invictus guides the viewer through the end of apartheid and the release of Mandela from prison, as well as his election to the presidency of South Africa. Not long after, the newly elected president watches a friendly rugby match between South Africa’s national rugby team, the Springboks and England, and remarks upon seeing black spectators cheering for England that he used to do the same thing while imprisoned. The Springboks represented not only white dominance and elitism, but also apartheid itself, as they had always been an all-white team playing a...

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