After 27 years in jail, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is released in 1990 and works immediately to bring about the end of apartheid and the initiation of full democratic elections in which the black majority population can vote. Mandela's ANC wins the election and he takes office as President of South Africa in 1994. His immediate challenge is "balancing black aspirations with white fears".Racial tensions from the apartheid era have not completely disappeared. This is seen, in part, through Mandela's security team, which consists of both black and white officials, who are immediately hostile to each other despite sharing the same job and goal. Nevertheless, one of the white officials notes later on that he prefers Mandela to F.W. de Klerk, his old boss.
While Mandela attempts totackle the country's largest problems—crime and unemployment, among many others—he attends a game of the Springboks, the country's rugby union team. Mandela recognizes that the blacks in the stadium cheer against their home squad, as the Springboks (their history, players, and even their colours) represent prejudice and apartheid in their minds, and remarks that he used to do the same thing whileimprisoned on Robben Island. Knowing that South Africa is set to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup in one year's time, Mandela convinces a meeting of the newly-black-dominated South African Sports Committee not to change the Springboks' name and colours. He then arranges a meeting with the captain of the Springboks rugby team, François Pienaar (Matt Damon). Though Mandela does not verbalise his truemeaning during their meeting, Pienaar understands the message below the surface: if the Springboks can gain the support of non-white South Africans and succeed in the upcoming Rugby World Cup, the country will be unified and inspired to exceed its expectations. Mandela also shares with Pienaar that a poem, "Invictus", had been inspiring to him during his time in prison, helping him to "stand whenall he wanted to do was lie down".
Pienaar and his teammates train, but the players, all but one of whom are white, voice disapproval that they are to be envoys to the poor and public, fearing exhaustion from overwork. Mandela, too, hears disapproval from friends and family. Many more, both white and black citizens and politicians, began to express doubts on using sport to unite a nation tornapart by some 50 years of racial tensions. For many non-whites, especially the radicals, the Springboks symbolised white supremacy and they did not want to support their national team. However, both Mandela and Pienaar stand firmly behind their theory that the game can be used to successfully unite the country. Mandela asks Pienaar how he leads, and he says confidently that he leads by example.Mandela likes the response, but adds to what he says that inspiring people to do great things is the ultimate challenge. Mandela believes that to inspire a shared vision you must use the work of others. As the tournament approaches, Mandela collapses from exhaustion and the Springboks' only black player, Chester Williams, is sidelined with a pulled hamstring.
Things begin to change, however,as the players interact with the locals. During the opening games, support for the Springboks begins to grow among the non-white population. By the second game (which is in fact the quarter-final against Western Samoa) Williams is fit once again. Citizens of all races turn out in numbers to show their support for the Springboks. At the suggestion of several security guards, Mandela sports aSpringbok jersey with Pienaar's number six on it to show his support, and his name is chanted repeatedly by the home crowd during his entrance--a contrast to a previous rugby match scene, in which Mandela is booed by some in the crowd. As momentum builds, even the security team members become at ease with each other and the black members who were not interested in the sport, eventually began to...
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