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Study Guide: Ransom vs Invictus: Characters

Following the end of the destructive and racist system of apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela is elected as the nation’s president. Although he has been elected with a huge majority, he is deeply aware that he does not have the confidence of many white South Africans. To realise his dream of South Africa as a rainbow nation, Mandela decides to transform the contentious national rugby team, the Springboks, into a symbol of national unity.

The central characters of the film Invictus are Nelson Mandela, first black President of South Africa, and Mandela and Pienaar are played by Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon respectively. François Pienaar, captain of the mostly-white South African rugby team, the Springboks. 

Nelson Mandela

Mandela was jailed in 1962 and taken to Robben Island in 1963 where he experienced conditions of great deprivation. Mandela was in Robben Island Prison until 1982, when he was transferred, first, to Polismoor Prison and, later, to Victor Verster Prison. He was released in 1990, after President F. W. de Klerk resolved that all political prisoners were to be freed.

During the period of his incarceration, Mandela became an increasingly prominent symbol of the injustices perpetrated in South Africa, as the international community joined together to condemn the apartheid regime. Along with imposing economic sanctions, the international community also excluded South Africa from sporting competition, most notably the Olympics. New Zealand continued to play rugby against South Africa until 1981, when the Springbok tour of New Zealand was bitterly opposed by many New Zealanders and resulted in extreme social discord.

From ACMI Education Resource Invictus: Exploring Issues of Identity and Belonging

Francois Pienaar

As his character is represented in Invictus, Francois is, like the South African nation, transformed by Mandela’s example. Through his association with Mandela, Pienaar becomes what Mandela believes he can be. The more that Pienaar learns about Mandela, the further he travels away from the system of apartheid that produced him towards a new understanding of his identity as a South African and of his place in the world. 

The trip to Robben Island was an important event for the Springbok team in 1995. It not only highlighted Mandela’s extraordinary strength and capacity to forgive but also provided Francois with a new version of the history of his country. Through putting himself in Mandela’s shoes, Pienaar is able to escape the limitations and thwarted worldview he inherited as a white man born into the apartheid system. As Pienaar faces the reality of the apartheid regime and its cruelty, it becomes part of his own history and identity. When he stretches out his arms to measure Mandela’s cell, he and we become aware that he and his fellow white South Africans have also been imprisoned by the evil of the apartheid regime.

From ACMI Education Resource Invictus: Exploring Issues of Identity and Belonging

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