Review of John Carlin's Invictus

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“Nelson Mandela is a man of destiny” -F.W. De Klerk (140). How did a man who spent 27 years in prison change the hearts and minds of people who called him “terrorist in chief?” Is it possible for one man’s determination and careful planning change the direction of a country so set on the norm? John Carlin tells the story of Nelson Mandela through the eyes of people close to him as well as through the eyes of his enemies. Both friends and enemies portray just his presence as overwhelming. Invictus tells the story of how Mandela used his overwhelming presence to unite a country through the sport of rugby. The story begins on the morning of the 1995 Rugby World Cup championship game. The rest of the book details how he got to that point. Starting with his time on Robben Island as a prisoner for 18 years, where he was able to think and plan for a South Africa without apartheid. His last few years of prison he is allowed secret conversations with high ranking members of the National Party. In these conversations he uses his overwhelming presence to affect the hearts of powerful South African leaders and he is eventually allowed a visit from the President of South Africa which leads to his release. After his release he begins negotiations to end apartheid which leads to him becoming president. As president he has the daunting task of uniting a divided country. After many years of dealings with the Afrikaners (majority of white population), he decides rugby is how he will unite the country. The rest of the book details the events leading up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup championship game using friends and enemies of Mandela to detail the impact a sport could have on a country. Carlin tells a story of how Nelson Mandela used his overwhelming presence and political savvy to save a divided country from civil war with the game of rugby.

Most people who spend 27 years in prison would become mentally unstable, unable to adapt to society. Nelson Mandela used his time in prison to critically think about the problems South Africa was facing. His prison cells were generally 6 by 14 feet and Mandela himself was 6’1”. His main goal in prison was to get to know the Afrikaner people and how to approach them. (These were the same people who had placed him in prison.) While in prison he learned about their history and the Anglo-Boer wars. He wanted to learn everything about them so he could show them respect that he himself felt he deserved. He befriended many guards who shared information of their home life and of family. Mandela always showed the utmost interest and used his overwhelming presence to develop trust. Often times, he was given special treatment because of his demeanor and respect from the guards and wardens. They would get him books and listen to his requests about the prison. He was able to not only cease manual labor at the prison, but he also was able to secure televisions and radios for the prison. Eventually he was given a secret meeting with the head of the Ministry of Justice, Kobie Coetsee. That meeting led to many other conversations with Niel Barnard, head of intelligence, and eventually the president himself, P.W. Botha. All three of these men agreed that Mandela should not be in prison, but they also agreed he should gradually rather than suddenly be allowed back into society. He was allowed to live in an old warden’s house inside the prison compound where he enjoyed luxuries like a television and a microwave that did not exist in South Africa when he went to prison. Although he spent 27 years of his life in prison, Carlin argues that, as a man of destiny, the lessons that Mandela learned during that time were paramount for his inevitable rise. Mandela was released from prison on February 12th, 1990 and he immediately captivated a crowd of international reporters, once again showing his overwhelming presence and political savvy. His first goal was to continue talks with the leaders of...
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