Publish date:
Updated on

Mandela cheers on South African rugby team

On June 24, 1995, South Africa defeats New Zealand in the finals of the Rugby World Cup at Ellis Park in Johannesburg while a special guest looks on: Nelson Mandela, who had become the first president of South Africa to be elected in a fully representational democratic election the previous year. Mandela wore the jersey of Francois Penaar, South Africa’s team captain.

At his inauguration on May 10, 1994, Mandela, who had spent 27 years as a political prisoner of the South African government, declared that “the time for the healing of the wounds has come.” Over the course of his five-year presidency (1994-1999), he dedicated himself to building understanding and forgiveness between black and white South Africans. As part of South Africa’s system of apartheid, Afrikaans for apartness, blacks were traditionally excluded from the rugby team and as a result did not support the national team. Mandela’s appearance at the rugby game in spite of the national team’s exclusionary history was an effort to help heal the nation’s wounds over its ugly history of apartheid and move forward with the integration of the national rugby team.

The 1995 World Cup final pitted South Africa’s Springboks against the New Zealand All Blacks. Both teams came into the match undefeated, and were widely thought to be the two best teams in the tournament. The day before the final, most of the New Zealand team got food poisoning, which some observers believed to be a deliberate act of sabotage. South Africa led 9-6 at halftime, but early in the second half the All Blacks tied the score at 9. A drop goal by South Africa’s Joel Stransky broke a 12-12 tie in extra time, giving South Africa the championship. After the game, Mandela presented the trophy to a visibly moved Penaar.

In 2007, Nelson Mandela’s appearance at the 1995 Rugby World Cup was chosen as the greatest moment in World Cup history.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Eamon de Valera resigns

Eamon de Valera, the world’s oldest statesman, resigns as president of Ireland at the age of 90. The most dominant Irish political figure of the 20th century, Eamon de Valera was born in New York City in 1882, the son of a Spanish father and Irish mother. When his father died two more

King Philip’s War begins

In colonial New England, King Philip’s War begins when a band of Wampanoag warriors raid the border settlement of Swansee, Massachusetts, and massacre the English colonists there. In the early 1670s, 50 years of peace between the Plymouth colony and the local Wampanoag Indians more

Picasso exhibited in Paris

On June 24, 1901, the first major exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s artwork opens at a gallery on Paris’ rue Lafitte, a street known for its prestigious art galleries. The precocious 19-year-old Spaniard was at the time a relative unknown outside Barcelona, but he had already more

Napoleon’s Grande Armee invades Russia

Following the rejection of his Continental System by Czar Alexander I, French Emperor Napoleon orders his Grande Armee, the largest European military force ever assembled to that date, into Russia. The enormous army, featuring some 500,000 soldiers and staff, included troops more

U.S. Air Force reports on Roswell

On this day in 1997, U.S. Air Force officials release a 231-page report dismissing long-standing claims of an alien spacecraft crash in Roswell, New Mexico, almost exactly 50 years earlier. Public interest in Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs, began to flourish in the 1940s, more

Senate repeals Tonkin Gulf Resolution

On an amendment offered by Senator Robert Dole (R-Kansas) to the Foreign Military Sales Act, the Senate votes 81 to 10 to repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. In August 1964, after North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked U.S. destroyers (in what became known as the Tonkin Gulf more

Pete Hamill is born

Journalist Pete Hamill is born on this day in 1935 to Irish immigrants in Brooklyn. The oldest of a large brood of children, Hamill grew up playing stickball in a blue-collar neighborhood but was fascinated with comic books and novels. With the neighborhood tavern the center of more

Mail bomb injures Yale professor

On June 24, 1993, Yale University computer science professor David Gelernter is seriously injured while opening his mail when a padded envelope explodes in his hands. The attack just came two days after a University of California geneticist was injured by a similar bomb and was more

Soviets blockade West Berlin

One of the most dramatic standoffs in the history of the Cold War begins as the Soviet Union blocks all road and rail traffic to and from West Berlin. The blockade turned out to be a terrible diplomatic move by the Soviets, while the United States emerged from the confrontation more