By Richa Naik, CNN
Eighteen years ago Monday, on June 24, 1995, South Africa’s Springbok rugby team staged a stunning upset to win the Rugby World Cup against the heavily favored New Zealand.
But the game was much more than just one day’s win. This was the day Nelson Mandela cemented himself as leader of all South Africans.
Elected the year before, democracy was still fragile and the racial divide was still raw.
Rugby was an all-white game and Springbok captain Francois Pienaar was its hero. But Mandela enlisted Pienaar’s helps to use this final to unite, instead of divide.
Several minutes before the big match began, the great man walked out onto the field wearing the team’s distinctive green and yellow jersey and Pienaar’s number six on his back. Mandela shook the hand of every player.
He had entered the lion’s den. The mostly white crowd seemed stunned to see him there of all places. Then a massive chant rumbled through the stadium. “Nelson,” the crowd shouted as their brand new president grinned and waved his rugby cap.
And in that brief, shining moment their new, democratically elected president won the allegiance and the hearts of blacks and whites.
Later, Pienaar would say that it was Mandela who had won the match for them.