When black met white, South Africa won gold

Nelson MandelaNelson Mandela presents the William Webb Ellis Cup to Springbok captain Francois Pienaar after his team defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final played at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, in this June 24, 1995 file photo. Mandela has passed away on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.REUTERS

Francois Pienaar used simple words to describe Nelson Mandela, calling the inspiring anti-apartheid leader and role model for millions "my president and my example."

The former South Africa rugby captain was the sportsman who perhaps knew Mandela best and shared a podium with him at the 1995 World Cup final to form a defining image of white and black united in a newly democratic and victorious country.

Mandela died on Thursday at 95, sending South Africa and millions around the world into mourning. "Nelson Mandela was the most extraordinary and incredible human being," Pienaar said on Friday in a statement, "not only because he united his country when such a task seemed impossible but also because, through his unique humanity, he inspired hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

"I will always be profoundly grateful for the personal role Nelson Mandela has played in my life as my president and my example."

Ultimate fairytale

The relationship between Mandela, the black former political prisoner turned president, and Pienaar, the blond Afrikaans rugby player from a conservative white background, underpinned South Africa's fairytale at its World Cup nearly two decades ago. They were already close by the time it culminated with Mandela handing the golden World Cup trophy over to Pienaar after South Africa's triumph over New Zealand, patting the captain lightly on the shoulder and thanking him for what he had done for his country.

It was then that South Africans believed they had broken down the last of their racial barriers, once represented by the all-white Springboks teams, and the scene is enshrined as one of sport's most poignant moments.

"It was my great fortune and privilege to receive the Webb Ellis Cup from Madiba at the conclusion of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park in Johannesburg," Pienaar said, "creating what has become an iconic image of national success, unity and reconciliation that resonates with all South Africans."

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