Playing the Enemy

Book Notes
Playing the enemy: Nelson Mandela and the game that made a nation
By John Carlin

One of the most remarkable events of the postwar WW2 period, along with the demise of communism, is the ending of apartheid in South Africa. This book describes the behind the scenes negotiations which took place between the ANC and the Afrikaner Nationalist Party leading to the end of official apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as president. Written by a journalist, the book examines how popular support of rugby by all races was used by Mandela to bring the two sides together climaxing in South Africa winning the World Cup for rugby in 1995. At the time there was only one colored player on the South African team. Rugby was played by colored South Africans in the apartheid years but in separate leagues.
Well written by Carlin, a journalist, the story illustrates how major crises or events often give rise to secret negotiations that only later become known. This was true for the Irish troubles. It may be less true today as modern communications manage to leak stories.
Sport as a political instrument is illustrated by the book, rugby in this instance but cricket in the case of India and Pakistan and the Olympic Games and other international events like the World Cup of Soccer. Another theme shows how business, especially mining interests in South Africa, acted to promote the end of apartheid.
The book club to which I belong rated it highly, one of the very few titles in the last 5 years that has had general support in an informal poll. Our January 2010 read is The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, an Ottawa based writer and winner of the Leacock award for humour.

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