Monday, 17 July 2017

When Crowds went Wild and Grown Men Cried

Last week we shared some thoughts about our preparations for Mandela Day. Well, that special day is tomorrow, 18 July, and so we wish to share a special story. A true story.

It was 1995. South Africa had just seen the end of apartheid, the birth of democracy and the election of a new President. As he came into power, he must have seen a Country almost on the brink of civil war. Here were millions of people free and yet not free. Something radical had to be done. As this great man, Nelson Mandela, toured the townships, rural areas; cities, towns and villages, he heard their cries and he saw their great frustration. He felt their anger, after years of oppression. Many sort revenge. Mandela, or Madiba as he was affectionately called, had suffered more than most, shut away on a tiny island, far from his family and friends. Then it appears, he had an idea. Wearing a baseball type cap with the Springbok emblem on it, he began to talk about it to the crowds which gathered everywhere he went. He started to encourage them to think of a great game. The game of rugby.
Now this was no mean task, as the black people of South Africa were not generally rugby fans. It was considered a white man's game but here was their new and beloved President and leader, trying hard to change that. The 3rd Rugby World Cup Tournament was looming and miraculously, South Africa had won the rights to host this event. Not only that, but every match was to be played on South African soil!. To top it all, the South African National team, the Springboks, were allowed to compete! 

Rugby fans throughout the land were wild with excitement and anticipation. The cry rang out
                        "One team, one country!"

When a semi-final was played in Cape Town at the famous Newlands Stadium, I was there! I stood on the grass in the middle of that stadium and looked up at the crowd of almost 50 000. I thought I was dreaming! But I was not there to take part in the game, however. I had an unusual task to perform.

Earlier that morning, I had enjoyed breakfast with the team at a nearby hotel. Later, I stood in the tunnel, as the teams ran onto the field. I was faint with the tension and excitement of it. I was not conscious of it at the time but this was history in the making! I looked up at the bright blue sky and then turned towards our beloved Table Mountain. I stood there, as if in a dream, not as a reporter, not as an official; not as a member of staff or of the organizing Committee, but merely as the fundraiser of a local charity, whose sole mandate was to feed thousands of hungry primary school children from schools around the Cape Peninsula. Children who came from such impoverished homes, that they left home hungry every morning, having had nothing to eat since the night before. As any teacher will tell you, "you can't teach a hungry child!"

It was those few words and my own passionate belief in them, that had given me the courage and the strength to approach the rugby authorities with an idea. After what seems, in retrospect, very little negotiation on my part, they agreed to let our Charity run a fundraising competition around the world cup. The main prize, to be awarded to a school child, would be two tickets to the world cup match to be played at Newlands Stadium! 

This was indeed a great opportunity for our Charity. It would not only generate much needed funds, which would go directly towards providing more school meals, but it would give us wonderful publicity in all the local papers. So I was there on that special day, to see the winner, a young primary school boy and his father, take up their prize.

I watched the match in luxury, from the VIP lounge. During the curtain raiser, I called some cousins of mine, great rugby fans, whom I knew would be glued to their television set and asked them as a joke, to guess where I was!

They couldn't of course and they were more than a little surprised. Knowing me as they did, it would have seemed most unlikely!

I do believe that most of the country came to stand still whilst those matches were played. Thousands upon thousands of South Africans cried when Madiba, dressed in our team's Springbok jersey, watched the final match, when Joel Stransky took that winning kick and won the game and the cup for South Africa. As Madiba held up that "Golden Cup" before handing it to the Springbok Captain, Francois Pienaar, the crowd went wild and grown men cried.

Talk of the World Cup went on for months. Photographs flooded every newspaper and magazine and then as these things do, the excitement gradually faded and life returned to normal.

Years later, came the talk of "INVICTUS", a movie to be made with the great Madiba and the World Cup, as it's central theme.

Paging through our local newspapers one evening, I noticed an advertisement placed by a casting agency. They were asking for people to audition for the crowd scenes for the movie. I called the following morning. A day or two later, I was interviewed, measured and photographed and told that I would be contacted in due course. I did not hold much hope but, lo and behold, the call came and I had been accepted.

So once again, I would be at the famous stadium in Newlands, but this time not in the "royal" box, as it were, but on one of the stands, waving a flag and shouting my lungs out! Me, a pensioner, a grandmother, a lover of books and art and music, being filmed at a rugby match? For a real, full length Hollywood style movie? Of course, I would be lost in the crowd, so it did not really count, I thought.

It just could not be me, never! Was this really happening? Had I really got out of bed at four thirty that morning, to report to the agency by five thirty? Had I really just eaten an absurdly lavish breakfast, laid on by special caterers, for everyone gathered there?

The answer was yes, to all of that, because life is full of wonderful surprises and we never really know what is waiting for us, just around that proverbial corner and that is what makes life so exciting.

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