For some countries their sports kits are culturally linked with their identity, think Holland and Brazil in Football. In New Zealand the All Black rugby kit is so synonymous with our perception of the country that we in the northern hemisphere recognise it instantly as being so quintessentially emblematic of the country to such an extent that many of us would probably fail to link many other cultural images to New Zealand.
Some kits are not so lucky, the South African rugby jersey with its springbok logo became synonymous, not just with a sport but as being representative of an undesirable political creed, class and culture. It became near inextricably intertwined with the Afrikaans creed of apartheid and rugby the sport of the political ruling class.
This made the image of Nelson Mandela wearing the jersey next to the captain of the national team, a man who by appearance and status seemed to be the physical embodiment of the ideal Afrikaaner, all the more remarkable and iconic. For a man of so many iconic images the one at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final beside Francois Pienaar is perhaps the most iconic of all, it is the personification of reconciliation and acceptance.
Of his many iconic images this is the one that stands out all the more and in light of his death is the one most worth revisiting. How many of us imprisoned wrongly by a system that stood against us based upon the colour of our skin could walk free only to embrace and celebrate the cultural representation of that system and would be capable of turning around its image so completely that it is now respected and revered for the right reasons?
- How Nelson Mandela changed everything with a rugby jersey (newsday.com)
- The historic day when Nelson Mandela united the Rainbow Nation (glasgow.stv.tv)