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Mandela Day was celebrated around the world on 18 July every year. The Museum held a virtual exhibition to commemorate the day.

Celebrations in 2020 were hampered by our lockdown status as a result of the COVID -19 pandemic. A call to action was issued for the world to share the successes that we have achieved and the lessons we have learned as we battle this pandemic, and its effect on those less fortunate than ourselves.

It is recognised that in South Africa we are dealing with two pandemics at the same time: GBV and COVID-19. Cyril Ramaphosa recently said “At a time when the pandemic has left us all feeling vulnerable and uncertain, violence is being unleashed on women and children with a brutality that defies comprehension.”

GBV was a cause very close to Nelson Mandela and the National Museum decided to raise awareness about this cause on Mandela Day. Through a series of social media posts the Museum reflected on Mandela’s feelings about this scourge.  Gender Based Violence (GBV) has been a pandemic in South Africa which existed long before COVID -19.

Mandela and Gender Based Violence: A selection of quotes

“We do know that many men do not abuse women and children; and that they strive always to live with respect and dignity. But until today the collective voice of these men has never been heard, because the issue has not been regarded as one for the whole nation.” Nelson Mandela on GBV

“As long as we take the view that these are problems for women alone to solve, we cannot expect to reverse the high incidence of rape and child abuse. Domestic violence will not be eradicated. We will not defeat this scourge that affects each and every one of us, until we succeed in mobilising the whole of our society to fight it.” Nelson Mandela on GBV.

“Gender equality was central to Madiba’s vision of equality, and central to the struggle for freedom. His was a reflection of leadership that understood that equality cannot be selectively applied; leadership that held a vision of a society where there was no discrimination on the basis of race, class, gender or any other category.” Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina J Mohammed, delivering the 15th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture

Mandela and his critical role using rugby as a tool of reconciliation and unification

Image: The Nelson Mandela Trophy

The History Department participated in the virtual exhibition on Mandela Day and they focused on his love of sports and how he played a critical role in using rugby as a tool of reconciliation and unification in South Africa’s transition towards democratic rule in the 1990s.

Nelson Mandela is regarded as one of the foremost examples of political integrity and the embodiment of liberal values in the world. Sadly, he passed away in December 2013. The national sevens side, the Blitzboks, celebrated the life of this great leader by winning the second leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium at the time.  South African rugby also formally participated in the earlier event of celebrating Madiba’s 95th birthday.

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐍𝐞𝐥s𝐨𝐧 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐥𝐚 𝐓𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐡𝐲

The trophy pictured here, was at stake in a special commemorative Castle Lager Rugby Championship match between the Springboks and the Argentinean Pumas at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on the inaugural Nelson Mandela Sports and Cultural Day, held on 17 August 2013 in Soweto. It also formally marked a new era in the long relationship between South African and Argentinian rugby. The relationship prior to democracy and the Mandela presidency was often characterised by Argentina’s willingness to ignore the anti-apartheid boycott. Prior to the Soweto event, the teams played for the Danie Craven Friendship Trophy which was often not awarded. The 2013 event with the Mandela Trophy as prize therefore undoubtedly signalled a new era in relations between the two countries.

Like the Blitzboks later that year, the Springboks blasted their opponents away by 73-13 to record the highest score the biggest victory in the history of the competition on a day described by the South African as “a boisterous and beautiful day”.

In his post-match interview, then Springbok captain Jean de Villiers noted: “The atmosphere was fantastic and we definitely enjoyed it. Today was about more than just rugby and sport, it was about the whole of South Africa, uniting the nation and celebrating someone who did that so well. The Madiba Magic worked for us again.”

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐍𝐞𝐥𝐬𝐨𝐧 𝐌𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐥𝐚 𝐑𝐮𝐠𝐛𝐲 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐠𝐞 𝐏𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐞

Image: The Nelson Mandela Rugby Challenge Plate

Australia was one of the countries that not only supported the anti-apartheid struggle but also applied pressure to secure the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. The Australian Rugby Union were one of the first international bodies to terminate its links with South Africa in 1970 in protest against apartheid. In the post-apartheid era, the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate contest became a means through which the South African Rugby Union recognised this important contribution.

The silver plate has a thick 24-carat rim and central a gold disk featuring a Wallaby and a Springbok. To emphasise the link with Rugby, the back of the Plate is leather clad. It literally is a plate, hence the name Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate as opposed to Cup or Trophy. Flynn Silver, a family company from Kyneton in Victoria, Australia, handcrafted the Plate.

The inaugural Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate match was played at Melbourne’s Telstra Dome on 8 July, 2000 with the Wallabies winning the contest 44-23. Prior to the match, Mr Mandela addressed the crowd and television audience via satellite. Over the last 20 years the game has become an integral part of the Rugby Championships, formerly the Tri-Nation Series.

Nelson Mandela and the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup

Image: Madiba with Irish Parliamentary Team

Parliamentary rugby as a form of leisure for political representatives, has been around for a good number of years. Some parliamentary rugby clubs such as the French XV du Parlement have been around for 25 years.

Others, such as the Commons & Lords Rugby Union Football Club, which brings together the Lords and Commons in the British Parliament have also been in existence for a substantial period of time, introduced and maintained the British Parliamentary Lions as a parallel or twin to their more illustrious counterpart.

The twinning of parliamentary rugby with existing and world-renowned competitions such as the Six Nations or the Bledisloe Cup Competition has already become a tradition and is a regular and parallel feature on the European and Australian and New Zealand rugby calendars respectively.

Whilst the game primarily serves as a source of leisure away from the rigours of policy-making and political manoeuvring or as a means for raising funds for various public causes, it is occasionally also used as a tool for foreign-policy.

Image: Parliamentary Rugby World Cup

In 1995 Nelson Mandela took the initiative of hosting the first Parliamentary Rugby World Cup in Cape Town. Six national parliaments namely South Africa, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Ireland, Argentina and France participated. In addition to building new relations with foreign parliament, Madiba also wanted to use the event to bind local politicians together by literally using the ‘scrum’ as a political instrument. New Zealand won the first tournament after defeating South Africa by 11points to 3. This auspicious event therefore celebrates its 25th birthday this year.

Education Department compiled a Mandela Word Search for learners.

The Education department also participated in the virtual exhibition and they compiled a Word Search for all learners to complete. The words chosen were all related to the history of Nelson Mandela.

Text: Dr Hendrik Snyders and Sharon Snell

Further reading:

Nelson Mandela Sport and Recreation Day, 13 August 2013. Available from
Nelson Mandela’s inspiring words | Celebrating 20 years of sport’s power to change the world
World of Rugby Sevens honours Nelson Mandela in Port Elizabeth. See
South Africa versus Argentina, 13 August 2013. See


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