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The 16th Man

Much has been written about Nelson Mandela in recent days, and some of it has been about his association with sport – both personally and politically. Of course, there was much more to Mandela than sport – but his use of it as a source of unity, particularly at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, is legendary.

One of the undergraduate courses I teach is heritage tourism, and one of the units in the course is about the politics of heritage. During this unit, I discuss the idea of dissonance in heritage, in that heritage in its many forms is frequently divisive.  In other words, one person’s symbol or site of heritage pride is another’s symbol of hate or anguish.  Rarely are these divergent views reconciled.  In case after case, students are shown that, perhaps, the one inherent quality heritage demonstrates is division.

However, at the end of the unit, I show the students The 16th Man documentary from ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 documentary series. In it, the students see how Mandela took the Springbok – one of the central symbols of apartheid – and made it into a symbol of unity. Of course, this challenges the students to question whether heritage always erects barriers or can actually help to build bridges, so to speak.