The game has been immortalized in photos, books and films. For Marc, it is a treasured memory, and a source of inspiration.
When the Rugby World Cup was held in Johannesburg in 1995, 17-year-old Marc and his friends saved up to make the trip.
Barely four years earlier, South Africa’ s racist policy of apartheid had been abolished and the country – long an international outcast – was hosting its first major international sporting event in years.
The South Africa Springboks dominated the tournament, winning every game. They took the Cup on June 24 by defeating New Zealand.
Then, in front of Marc’s eyes, history happened.
Rugby had long been the game of the whites, with oppressed black South Africans sitting on the sidelines. But when the triumphant Springboks lined up after the game, Nelson Mandela, who was elected South Africa’s first black president just one year before, strode on to the field. He wore the Springboks green cap and jersey. Then, with his country watching, he presented the trophy to François Pienaar, the blond, Afrikaner Springboks team captain. The men shook hands.
Marc was swept up the merriment that followed. Blacks and whites mixed freely, bonded by sporting victory. And Marc never forgot the uncommon courage of Mr. Mandela, a man of action who deflected admiration and attention to make meaningful change in a divided country, standing between peace and reconciliation, and all-out racial civil war.
Years later, we had a brief encounter with the aging freedom fighter in a crowded conference hall. We had a chance to ask him the secret to his leadership: “To lead your flock from behind, like a shepherd,” he said. The father of South African peace and reconciliation has shown all of us the path to a better world – and as we mourn his loss it is all of our duty now to follow it.
Some may wonder how a 95-year-old man, who fills history books and museums with his story, could possibly connect with young people. Even though many, younger than us, don’t quite know Mandela’s history, they know what he stands for.
At We Day this year, at eight cities across Canada so far, we projected towering images of individuals who have touched the world on a huge screen. The picture of U.S. President Barack Obama was there. Same with author J.K. Rowling. They all got applause, of course, but when he showed a photo of Mr. Mandela, the Harry Potter generation leapt to their feet. They are ready to seize his torch.
But how do you honour the life and legacy of the man oversaw the peaceful transition of South Africa to democracy and racial equality? That is the question that we, in small part, have been working to answer.
Last spring, Craig accompanied Governor-General David Johnston on a tour of South Africa. At the time, Mr. Mandela’s health was failing badly, and they talked about what would be an adequate honour.
Craig carried an idea back home with him. Education has always been a priority and passion for Mr. Mandela. So too, for young Canadians, who have shown repeatedly how keen they are to support their peers around the globe, whether it’s brick-by-brick classroom-by-classroom.
But building just one school in Mr. Mandela’s name didn’t seem to be enough. So we decided that we would make this our Year of Education and together with motivated young people, build 100 schools in Africa.
We believe building schools and helping educate the next generation is the greatest tribute that we can pay.
Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We.
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