I watched an unforgettable movie over this past weekend. ‘Invictus’ should most definitely be one of the best movies I ever watched. Incidentally, the man playing the leading role in ‘Invictus’, Morgan Freeman, also plays the lead role in my favourite movie of all time – ‘Shawshank Redemption’.
In ‘Invictus’, Freeman plays the role of former South African president, Nelson Mandela. Freeman portrays how Mandela, in his first year in office as South Africa’s first black president, used rugby – a game considered to be for whites – to unite the country and set the tone for reconciliation in the post-apartheid era.
I decided to share ‘Invictus’ with my friends on this blog because I feel strongly that it’s a movie that must be seen by anyone who is serious about nation building. In fact, if you have dreams of building anything lasting and leave a legacy for people to remember you by, ‘Invictus’ is the film for you.
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It’s not yet out on DVD but when it does, I will buy one for President Mills. I hope he doesn’t reject it. It’s not a hamper, is it?
I think every politician who is in the business for the wider public interest and not for public gain should see ‘Invictus’.
In one of the most poignant scenes in the movie, Mandela comes to work on his first day in office and sees many people, mostly whites, packing out. He quickly summons them into an office to deliver a very important message.
“I could not help noticing the empty offices as I came to work this morning,” he said. “If you want to leave, that is your right and if you feel in your heart that you cannot work with your new government, then it is better that you do leave – right away. But if you are packing up because you fear that your language or the colour of your skin or who you worked for before disqualifies you from working here, I am here to tell you: have no such fear.”
Then he continues: “The past is the past. We look to the future now. We need your help. We want your help. If you would like to stay you will be doing your country a great service. All I ask is that you do your work to the best of your abilities and with good heart. I promise to do the same. If we can manage that, our country will be a shining light in the world.”
And Mandela actually spoke those profound words. They were not just scripted into the movie. Those words made me realize that it’s actually possible for an African leader to come to office and refrain from dismissing all those perceived to have been working against him. If Mandela could do it in South Africa – just after apartheid – why can a John Kufuor or a John Mills do it in 50-year-old post-independent Ghana? Why should chief executives of parastatals lose their jobs simply because a new party is in power?
Shortly after delivering what I’d call “The past is the past” speech, Mandela appoints some white Afrikaans to join his corps of bodyguards. This annoys his head of security who has the temerity to demand an explanation from the president.
“Reconciliation starts here,” Mandela tells his security chief, who unsatisfied, tries to remind the president that the guys he has just appointed as his bodyguards might have tried to kill him in the past.
“Forgiveness starts here too,” Mandela replies. “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”
That, I believe, is another useful lesson for any serious nation-builder.
But, for me, the most important lesson from ‘Invictus’ came from a poem, Mandela used to recite in his prison cell at Robben Island. The poem, whose title is the same as the movie, is the most inspiring piece of literature I’ve ever read. It was written by Englishman, William Ernest Henley. It’s also called ‘Invictus’ and that’s where the movie derives its name.
“On Robben Island, when things got very bad, I found inspiration in a poem,” Mandela’s character says in the movie. “Just words, but they helped me to stand when all I wanted to do was to lie down.”
It inspired Mandela and it has inspired me too. I am going to make sure that I am able to recite it until my last breath. I am also going to frame it and mount it on a wall so I can see it every day.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.