Nothing meaningful can be said about the spiritual wisdom of South Africans without eventually including Nelson Mandela. Just a few pages into their new book, “Made for Goodness,” Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu point to Mandela as a global ideal of goodness. First, they mention such inspirational heroes as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., then they write: “In our own time Nelson Mandela commands the same kind of admiration. He walks into any place, and people are transfixed—not because he is mighty and macho, but because he is gracious and good.”
Mandela doesn’t appear again until the middle of this 200-page book. I won’t spoil the dramatic anecdote the Tutus share in this section of the book, but it involves a shocking and deadly incident in 1993 that nearly brought South Africa to civil war. This was after Mandela was released from prison, but before he became president in 1994. They include this particular story to show that already, in 1993, Mandela demonstrated that he was the real moral leader of South Africa in his response to this explosive incident.
That’s why we asked Mpho Tutu this week to talk about the movie, “Invictus,” produced by Morgan Freeman and Clint Eastwood from a 2008 book by real-life South African rugby star Francois Pienaar. The book and the movie tell the true story of deep and dangerous racial divisions that remained in South Africa even after Mandela’s election as president. In a public demonstration that shocked and angered many of his own supporters, Mandela dared to cheer for South Africa’s all-white Springbok rugby team in the Springboks’ first World Cup appearance in 1995. In doing so, Mandela proved to the nation that South Africa could bridge racial gaps.
Mpho Tutu now lives in the United States with her husband and children, but she grew up with Mandela as a family friend. Mpho’s father, Desmond Tutu, won the Nobel Peace Prize partly for his work in paving the way for Mandela’s release from prison and for supporting Mandela’s reconciliation work after Apartheid ended.
Neither the movie nor Mandela’s support of the Springboks is mentioned in the Tutus’ new book. We asked Mpho about the movie, though, because “Invictus,” which just was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S., is the primary window into South Africa’s liberation story for millions of American families.
Here is Mpho Tutu’s response to “Invictus”:
I actually was quite amazed by this movie, because I usually find movies about South Africa to be very irritating. Often, it feels like the movies get so much wrong about our story! But, with “Invictus,” there was so much they got right.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Nelson Mandela for South Africa and South Africans: for our national healing after Apartheid and for helping to create in us a sense of being one nation. What happened with the rugby team was certainly an example of that—as was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was fully supported by Nelson Mandela.
One cannot describe that whole complicated piece of history and everyone’s experience of what happened in the broad-brush strokes of a single movie. One movie cannot hope to encapsulate our whole history. And one movie can’t really show the entire impact of what Nelson Mandela did. But, this movie comes very close to describing how riven the country was—how deeply divided the nation was—and how powerful it was for him to give us this symbol of daring to appear at that rugby match wearing the Springbok jersey.
Care to read more about “Made for Goodness”?
- A Sample Psalm from “Made for Goodness”
- Mpho Tutu talks about Nelson Mandela and “Invictus”
- Mpho Tutu’s story of an unexpected connection with the Dalai Lama’s translator
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)