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Engaging the Oppressor


It was June 1995, one year after South Africa’s first democratic elections brought anti-Apartheid activist and guerilla fighter Nelson Mandela to power. After being barred from the World Cup in 1987 and 1991, South Africa was hosting the world Rugby championship. Its national team, the Springboks, a symbol of white Afrikaner domination, had made it to the final round, fielding a lone black player, Chester Williams. Mandela had spent twenty-seven years in prison, many of them under brutal conditions on the beautiful but isolated Robben Island, where race classifications dictated even the food rations he received – as a black man, he received one ounce less meat and a half-ounce less sugar than Indian and colored prisoners. In a now- famous gesture that June day, Mandela walked onto the field at Johannesburg’s Ellis Stadium at half-time wearing the Springbok uniform, and when the South African team won the championship, he returned to the field and raised his green cap in a victory gesture. The message was clear: there is a place for everyone in the new South Africa, former oppressor and formerly oppressed. We will rebuild this country together.