11 December 2013
For Francois Pienaar, the 1995 Rugby World Cup winning Springbok captain, his greatest “Madiba moment” was when the former president agreed to be a godfather to his two sons.
Speaking to journalists shortly before the memorial Service for Nelson Mandela got under way at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Pienaar, who had a personal bond with Madiba, said it was up to young people to carry the former statesman’s legacy forward.
When the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup on home turf in 1995, Nelson Mandela donned the No 6 shirt of the team’s captain – Francois Pienaar, a white Afrikaner – and the two embraced in a spontaneous gesture of racial reconciliation which melted hearts around the country.
South African Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins, in a statement issued after Mandela’s passing away last week, commented: “Through [Mandela’s] extraordinarily vision, he was able to use the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an instrument to help promote nation-building just one year after South Africa’s historic first democratic election.”
For Pienaar, however, there came an even greater moment.
“When my boys sat on his lap for the very first time, and when Stefan asked [Mandela] to be his godfather, and Mandela said yes. That moment when they sat on his lap, that to me was my best moment,” he said on Tuesday.
“Children have got this wonderful opportunity to follow in his footsteps,” Pienaar added. “They have got to vote, they are the ones that will carry Madiba’s legacy.
“I met Madiba for the first time in 1994 at the Union Buildings and I was very nervous then because I didn’t know why he wanted to meet me. I didn’t know what we were going to talk about.
“But as our relationship grew, I felt very blessed,” Pienaar said.
“Our relationship has been such a wonderful journey. What is very special for me is that it was after the World Cup that I got to know him better as a person, where there was nothing to gain politically for being my friend.”