The Big Read
2014 Big Read
Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation
By: John Carlin
In 1985, Nelson Mandela, then in prison for twenty-three years, set about winning over the fiercest proponents of apartheid, from his jailers to the head of South Africa’s military. First he earned his freedom and then he won the presidency in the nation’s first free election in 1994. But he knew that South Africa was still dangerously divided by almost fifty years of apartheid. If he could not unite his country in a visceral, emotional way—and fast—it would collapse into chaos. He would need all the charisma and strategic expertise he had honed during half a century of activism, and he would need a cause all South Africans could share. Mandela picked one of the more farfetched causes imaginable—the national rugby team, the Springboks, who would host the sport’s World Cup in 1995.
Against the giants of the sport, the Springboks’ chances of victory were remote. But their chances of capturing the hearts of most South Africans seemed remoter still, as they had long been the embodiment of white supremacist rule. During apartheid, the all-white Springboks and their fans had belted out racist fight songs, and blacks would come to Springbok matches to cheer for whatever team was playing against them. Yet Mandela believed that the Springboks could embody—and engage—the new South Africa. And the Springboks themselves embraced the scheme. Soon South African TV would carry images of the team singing “Nkosi Sikelele Afrika,” the longtime anthem of black resistance to apartheid.
As their surprising string of victories lengthened, their home-field advantage grew exponentially. South Africans of every color and political stripe found themselves falling for the team. When the Springboks took to the field for the championship match against New Zealand’s heavily favored squad, Mandela sat in his presidential box wearing a Springbok jersey while sixty-two-thousand fans, mostly white, chanted “Nelson! Nelson!” Millions more gathered around their TV sets, whether in dusty black townships or leafy white suburbs, to urge their team toward victory. The Springboks won a nail-biter that day, defying the oddsmakers and capping Mandela’s miraculous ten-year-long effort to bring forty-three million South Africans together in an enduring bond.
John Carlin, a former South Africa bureau chief for the London Independent, offers a singular portrait of the greatest statesman of our time in action, blending the volatile cocktail of race, sport, and politics to intoxicating effect. He draws on extensive interviews with Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and dozens of other South Africans caught up in Mandela’s momentous campaign, and the Springboks’ unlikely triumph. As he makes stirringly clear, their championship transcended the mere thrill of victory to erase ancient hatreds and make a nation whole.
Any student citing moral, religious or cultural objections to the current Big Read choice will be able to choose an alternative Big Read to be announced at a later date.
BIG READ Program’s Mission, Purpose and Goals
The mission of the BIG READ program is to unite incoming CCU freshmen in an enjoyable shared learning experience prior to beginning their academic course work.
The program’s purpose is to create a singular introductory learning forum among our students, across various disciplines, and to facilitate creative and critical thinking from the moment they step foot on campus.
The goals of this program are to engage students in a singular academic task, encourage the critical thought process, explore themes and ideas relevant to student life, and challenge students to develop and explore multiple perspectives.
BIG READ Committee’s Charge
The charge of the BIG READ committee is to evaluate and select materials each academic year that fulfill the goals of the summer reading program. Members of the committee participate on a volunteer basis and include faculty, staff and students. The committee reviews all materials solicited across campus and makes it’s selections based on a set list of criteria.