WHEN you ask Morné du Plessis about the release of Nelson Mandela from prison 30 years ago, there is more than just a glint in his eye.
And it’s not just that Du Plessis was the Springbok team manager who opened the team room door for Madiba at Ellis Cup ahead of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final that makes him react in such a jovial manner.
Now 70, Du Plessis was a 40-year-old former Springbok captain who felt it was important to be present at the Grand Parade on 11 February 1990 to hear Mandela address the nation.
“Thinking about that day 30 years ago, a doctor friend of mine reminded me (on Tuesday, 11 February), and said: ‘Remember, we were on the Parade’, I remember that moment. And he actually WhatsApped me at the exact time, and said we were standing on the Parade – our two families,” Du Plessis told Independent Media this week.
“We were quite anxious because there were hundreds of thousands of people, and you never know what the reaction was going to be. And we waited for Madiba, and he was obviously quite late – he made a few draaie (turns)! Coming on to the balcony there, it’s etched in my memory.”
Of course, Du Plessis had two other big Madiba Moments – the 1995 World Cup final, where he remembered the Ellis Park crowd chanting “Nelson! Nelson!” as the President appeared on the field with a No 6 Springbok jersey, and in 2000, when he addressed the Laureus Foundation – of which he was the first patron – in Monaco. And it is that latter encounter that still drives Du Plessis and the ‘Sport For Good’ slogan of Laureus, who will celebrate their 20th year of existence at their annual awards in Berlin on Monday.
“I can almost say positively that I don’t think this organisation would’ve had that sort of longevity if we didn’t have that sort of start. I remember all these famous guys sitting in this room, and (founder) Dr Johann Rupert and Dr (Joachim) Schmidt from Daimler-Chrysler, who were the other partners – and they were trying to tell (the story) and everybody is looking a little sceptical. Isn’t this just a marketing tool or something?” recalled Du Plessis, who is chairman of Laureus SA.
“Iain Banner, one of our trustees here, set it all up – he was working for Johann who said ‘if you don’t believe me, there is somebody here that you might believe’, and Madiba walked in!
“It was like a ’95 World Cup moment! He walked in with a beaming smile and walked around the room. He knew (everybody) – ‘Hi Monica Seles, I like your tennis’, Martina (Navratilova) And Sugar Ray at that stage was one of the original (members) – and he wasn’t there because he had been on an international flight and was sleeping. And Madiba said, ‘Where’s Sugar Ray Leonard?’, and everybody just ran to go and fetch him. That’s when he said ‘You guys can spread a message much more powerful than we can as politicians, religious leaders, business people. People can believe you guys, and you have to be true to it and go out and do it ”
Du Plessis says there is a South African DNA running through Laureus, and that will be evident on Monday too, as the World Cup-winning Springboks have been nominated for Team of the Year, and swimmer Natalie du Toit for Best Sporting Moment of the last 20 years – having competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics despite a leg amputation.
He feels that the Boks “are in with a good shout”, and that the reaction to Siya Kolisi’s team’s triumph around the globe had impressed his fellow Laureus Academy members.
Du Plessis finds it difficult to compare the 1995 and 2019 World Cup wins with regards to the nation-building impact on SA, although he felt that the age of social media had made Kolisi’s team much more popular.
“1995 will never be forgotten. It was Madiba-linked, it was a special time in our country. They did a movie – they will probably do a movie on this (2019 victory). And it will live forever. We were probably not ready for such a magic moment in ’95, and I only hope that this one is just a magic or golden moment, and we move on – and not only for rugby. You stop there and have got to understand what it means for rugby alone, let alone the country.
“One thing Rassie Erasmus said that was so incredible was: ‘It’s not our responsibility to change the country, but it’s our privilege to give people hope.’” And the Boks and a person like Natalie have given us hope. Now, what chance of a Springboks and Natalie du Toit Laureus Awards double?.