A true story of Nelson Mandela becoming president of South Africa and his subsequent attempt to bring the country together by focusing on the nation’s rugby team winning the World Cup. The movie begins with Mandela winning the election and being installed. The racial tensions run high as everyone, including his own entourage, expect a “regime change” mentality – fire all the previous administration and replace everyone with your own agents of power. But Mandela surprises them all, by his very first act in office. He calls the previous staff in and tells them that if they want to leave, they can, but if they want to stay and help bring change, then he will keep them. Much to the chagrin of his head of security, Mandela also brings in five big white Afrikaaners to round out his security. Mandela also stops the newly empowered rugby committee from disbanding their “all-but-one-white” team. Why? Because they see that team as a symbol of the oppression of the past. But Mandela sees it as the perfect location for embodying the very future unity the country needs.
And this is the theme of the movie: Overcoming injustice through forgiveness and reconciliation, rather than the multicultural view of overcoming injustice through the will to power and revolutionary regime change. Whereas multiculturalism would preach forced or artificial affirmative action and the vengeance of reverse discrimination against whites, Mandela says, “Forgiveness starts here. A rainbow nation starts here.” If you want to overcome past institutionalized injustice, you cannot replace it with a new injustice of institutionalized vengeance. That is only a cycle of violence. Demonizing previous administrations and punishing them is the injustice of victimology, crying victim in order to justify revenge.
Interestingly, the movie does not address in detail the fact that Mandela was also estranged from his wife because of her belief in violent resistance, but it does show his estrangement from his daughter because of his commitment to a higher cause. His daughter asserts the vengeance and regime change mentality of reparations and affirmative action. But Mandela tells her, “You seek only to assert your own personal feelings. That is selfish. That will not help build our nation.” Mandela so believes in the higher cause of forgiveness and reconciliation that he will even walk away from his family because they sought the ways of multicultural hate and violence.
The title of the movie comes from a poem by William Ernest Henley, “Invictus,” that Mandela quotes a couple times in the film. The last lines are emphasized in this lyric of overcoming the “fell clutch of circumstance” that bloodies the head of the oppressed in life: “I am master of my fate and the captain of my soul.” Mandela concludes, “If I cannot change when circumstances demand it, how can I expect others to?” And so this film is a story about living out grace and forgiveness instead of getting back at your oppressors by oppressing them when you are in power. That “master of my fate” line seems to cast it in a humanistic self-derived power to forgive rather than a religious or faith oriented worldview of divine empowerment.