First some background...
In 1992 I attended a 10 days scout leadership camp. It was a life altering experience for me. Such camps would probably be outlawed in the US, especially for the boy scouts (The US version tends to cater more to raising a generation of pansies - but that's just my opinion!).
At one point in the camp, we found a lettuce growing near a compost heap... We picked it, and 10 of us demolished it in minutes. Days later after being woken at 2am or so, forced to line up on the parade ground and strip searched, we were driven in the blacked out back of a truck and sent on a 20-30 mile hike with a compass, a map and 10 cans of food from which the labels had been removed. 1 kid managed to get 10 Rand by the 'guards' and so we also purchased 3 loaves of bread at a store midway through... BEST BREAD EVER!!
Anyway, I returned from that camp, fitter than I have ever been, and with the desire and confidence to take on the world.
The world had changed while I had been gone though. Chris Hani, leader of the recently unbanned South African Communist Party had been assasinated. It turns out it was by an elite force of operatives, which may or may not have been acting under the guidance of the South African government.
I remember that my first day home was the day of the funeral. An ominous feeling seemed to have enveloped the entire country, and there was a definite increase in tension between black and white. It through me for a loop, especially since I'd spent the last 10 days sharing a tent with a black scout and a few other scouts of various colors. We had become one, and then sent back into a world of segregation and increase uneasiness between races.
That one event changed so much.
I left South Africa at the beginning of 1994 and returned midway through 1996 on an LDS mission. There was a definite change in attitudes during that time, and I have assumed up until now that it was a gradual change which had taken place in the country since free elections had occurred and Mr. Mandela had taken office as President.
Up until a few months ago, I had been aware that South Africa had won the rugby world cup, and that the president had watched the game live, while wearing the jersey of Francois Pienaar. But that was all I knew.
I would love to know how much of this movie was actually based on fact. I suspect much of it was and I base that on an opportunity I had to hear the President speak.
It was later in 1996. Myself, two american missionaries and one from Zambia skipped missionary work one Saturday to head into the black township of Umlazi (It was our assigned missionary area too) and attend a rally at which Mr. Mandela was to speak.
2 years before a white man would not have dared attend such an event, but as we arrived, we were greeted by such warmth and graciousness by the locals, that it was hard to remember that. After the rally, we got talking to a group of military guys and posed for a couple of pictures, next to their landmine proof vehicle. At one point I had an AK-47, belonging to the soldier at my right leaning against my leg. For years that weapon had been the symbol of terrorist incursions, and now it was help by a man who was there to protect the president... Pretty awesome!!
The speech by Mr. Mandela was like nothing else I have ever heard. He's a small man with a wrinkled and wizened face. However he spoke with the power of a lion. At the time, there was a great deal of contention between the ANC and Inkatha, two political parties amongst the Zulus, which had a long history of violence. It's alluded to a little in the movie.
It wasn't a political speech, and it wasn't a motivational speech. Mr. Mandela said what needed to be said about putting aside petty differences and killing each other over politics. He chastized those present up one side and down the other, and then spoke of his dream for the new South Africa.
It was nothing less than powerful.
Invictus captures that man perfectly. A man who despite a life of unjust punishment, walked free with forgiveness in his heart. A man who had every reason to seek revenge and overturn the old regime, but instead chose reconciliation and harmony.
It's a movie about the Rugby World Cup, but but it's not a movie about rugby. It's a movie about the power of one made who seeks for something greater than himself.
It spoke to me, and has inspired some serious change in my life and how I view the world.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of fate
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years finds
And shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul