Invictus – a reminder of the glue of our common humanity   Leave a comment

Invictus – a reminder of the glue of our common humanity

By Barbara Nussbaum

Reading reviews of Invictus, on Google news gives the usual spread of opinion – an inspired journalist from Manila, a cautious interview from John Fourman of the Jewish Chronicle, an ungenerous critic from the UK based New Statesman, and an elated interview from a blogger who reports Clint Eastwood’s experience of walking into Mandela’s cell. “It’s very emotional when you go into a little cell that doesn’t even have a toilet in it. To think that someone spent 17 years of their life in there, cracking rocks or just digging in salt mines out there is a little bit overwhelming. And to come out and been as open, as magnanimous as forgiving as he did is almost impossible to fathom that. In the spirit of Josey Wales, I could never have been like that.” For those unfamiliar with American history, Wales was a peaceful Missouri farmer, driven to revenge by the brutal rape and murder of his wife and family by a band of pro- Union Jayhawkers, [1] from Kansas. This movie, in which Clint Eastwood portrays Josey Wales came out in 1976 and was set towards the end of the American civil war.[2] Eastwood’s incredible eye in recent times for stories which focus on the daunting task of journeys towards reconciliation may speak to his own remarkable journey as a producer and director.  I learned from Prof John Van Zyl, formerly of Wits University that the theme of “revenge” has played such a central role in most of Eastwood’s movies. “From The Unforgiven to Mystic River the idea that revenge is regrettable but unavoidable is central. How the revenge is carried out is the staple of those movies. In “Invictus” Eastwood has inverted this. Revenge is not inevitable but it is also disastrous

As a transplant to South Africa from Zimbabwe and California, and someone who writes about “ubuntu” an Nguni word for our common humanity,[3] I was moved to tears in the movie and re-inspired by the vivid memory of a moment of magic in the life of this country.  Unlike John Forman, I found that Eastwood did a magnificent job of capturing the subtle touches which marked a day blessed by hundreds of thousands of small scenes where ordinary people were moved by the reconciliatory spirit all around. How can one film cover hundreds and thousands of mini transformations on a day of such grand collective human magnificence?

In Gran Torino, directed by Eastwood in 2009, we witness Eastwood’s character, a bitter and disgruntled Korean War Vet returning who sets out to reform a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski’s prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino car.  In this film, Eastwood plays the leading role highlighting the dramatic transformation of a bitter, lonely and racist war vet sounded by foreigners as neighbours. How Mandela copes with the natural desire for some kind of revenge on the part of his followers is part of the central message of Invictus. Eastwood artfully documents Mandela’s daunting challenge of reconciliation in the early years of South Africa’s democracy as exemplified in the tension between the new African body guards and the older Afrikaaner guards, who protected the former president, De Klerk[4]. An astute reviewer in the Washington Post[5] observed that in the film Invictus South Africa herself, is one of the transformational characters, marked by “pluralism at its most dynamic, unruly and inspiring.” And as a country, South Africa is still dynamic, unruly, inspiring and I would add, very scary at times. I wonder how we’re doing as this unruly pluralistic character which some say is a microcosm of the world?

In the film, we witness the transformation not only through the eyes of the body guards, but also in several heartwarming scenes – touches from the heart-full hand of a director with a feel for the inner landscape of transformation and how to reflect the dance of these complexities on the screen. Towards the end, we see a young African boy, unable to afford a ticket to the game at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg which hosted the world cup rugby final.  We witness the unfolding of his encounter with two policemen in a police car.  During successive shots the police initially growling at the child “to bugger off”; the child’s quiet insistence of staying close to the police car to listen to the radio; and over time, the police tolerating the presence of the young boy edging closer to the car and radio, to the final moment when the exhilarated policemen lift the young boy high in the air and place a police cap on his head.

The Pienaar family “maid” whose transformation role John Fourman fails to recognise, we actually see a reclaiming and expansion of her dignity – where she shifts from the silent background ironing quietly in Pienaar’s family with no power at all; to a person claiming more space starting from the small act of cutting out a  newspaper photograph of Francois and Mandela; to the bold political act of asking Francois  Pienaar to let Madiba know her views about the great need for transport and housing before his first private visit to Mandela. We see the culmination of this moment when she is included as an equal, sitting next to her employer Pienaar’s mother, sharing the excitement of the final rugby game.

For those of us who were in South Africa on that day, Eastwood documented enough examples, to jog the heartfelt memories of the many extraordinary scenes we came to see. That day, driving back from a lunch in Pretoria to Jo’burg, I saw an African flower vendor. She was hugged spontaneously by a white male customer – they jumped up together, hugged again and again. I recall many of us driving in cars stuck in slow traffic reaching over to touch the hands of whoever passed by – whatever colour or class, whether in cars or walking, whether in taxis transporting many passengers or fancy cars carrying a few. As many have already said, that day was more than our team winning, it was about a nation seeing and experiencing the power of that intangible glue we felt that day. It was the memory of the alchemy of that day which may have left a residue for many of us in deepest parts of our souls. It was about the inspirational catalytic role of Mandela and the collective wisdom of a number of smart caring people whose leadership made it possible for all of us to step into the greater landscape of our common humanity – to feel the glue that binds us when we allow our hearts to open to let alchemy happen.

At a time in South Africa where “ubuntu”, has become overused, taken for granted or cheapened, the film has given this writer, internationally published on why ubuntu is important[6], the courage to follow through on something a little scary – to write a blog on “glue”- that intangible quality that binds us together as human beings. Invictus has re-inspired me. Thank you Madiba, Clint Eastwood and Francois Pienaar for your inspiration! My reach is smaller, my goals more humble, but the glue of our common humanity is certainly the “beat” of my dance and the captain of my soul. Will you join the dance?  Will you join the dance? At the 20th anniversary of Madiba’s release from prison, we’re more jaded and the political context more complex and sobering. But if we honour all that Mandela has stood for, we cannot forget promise of that day, February 11 1990, and the euphoria of the rugby world cup final. What will it take for each of us to be re-inspired to step into action and the kind of citizenship engagement which uses the alchemy of that glue to build our communities, our country and our world?

Barbara Nussbaum is a published author. She is affiliated with the Centre for Conscious Leadership in Johannesburg and also coaches people who want to write books. She can be reached at

[1] Also known as Senator James Lane’s Redlegs


[3] For those who want to read more about  this see.


[5] Anne Homeaday

[6] Published by the World Business Academy, a cutting edge think tank in California


Posted February 9, 2010 by barbaranussbaum in Uncategorized

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