Taking command of a nation divided, Nelson Mandela used sports to unify his people

Taking command of a nation divided, Nelson Mandela used sports to unify his people

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Two of the most vocal supporters of Nelson Mandela—and ambassadors of his message—in the last few years of his life were a pair of white golfers.

One of the golfers, Ernie Els, grew up during South Africa’s apartheid regime. And the other, Louis Oosthuizengrew up as part of the new nation Mandela created.

Els, a Johannesburg native and a pro since soon after Mandela was released from prison, had already won three majors when he stole the 2012 British Open from Australia’s Adam Scott on the final hole. When Els, then 42, accepted the claret jug, he took time to credit the then-former president in front of the golf-loving world. (Jump to the 27-second mark if you like.)


Two years earlier, at St. Andrews, Oosthuizen won his first major at the age of 27, running away with the 2010 British Open. He was seven years old when Mandela left prison; Els and Gary Player had been his golfing idols.

But before he thanked them in his acceptance speech – before he thanked anybody – he saluted Mandela on a particularly special day. (His speech begins around the 1:25 mark.)

It’s also worth noting the observation of the announcer about the speech, at the 4:08 – acknowledging the historical meaning of the moment.

Nelson Mandela understood the importance of sports in his country and how, even in the great divide of South Africa, his countrymen stood united behind its teams.

The fact that two white golfers chose to embrace Mandela was, in light of South Africa’s past, “incredible.”