But 20 years on, memories of the beaming new president wearing Pienaar’s number six jersey and a nation erupting in joy are shrouded with disillusion.
On Wednesday this week one of the country’s newly formed political parties, the Agency for New Agenda (ANA)‚ will launch a court bid to prevent the South African team from participating in the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England and Wales next month, claiming its selection process is biased against black players.
The party alleges that there is a lack of transformation in the sport‚ which it says is still dominated by white South Africans. On Friday last week Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer announced a 31-man team for the World Cup that includes eight black and mixed race players.
“It is common knowledge that some citizens resist such transformation and continue to practice activities‚ acts and conduct that are premised on unfair discrimination based on a number of criteria‚ including race, ” the party says in papers to be submitted to the court.
After 21 years there ought to have been enough progress made to eradicate the “vestiges and manifestations of racial bigotry and discrimination, ” it argues.
The party has also written to the International Rugby Union requesting that South Africa be suspended from the organisation as it “still is a white-man’s sport”.
The lawsuit comes amidst growing anger against Meyer for not selecting sides that represent the racial demographics of the country.
Ahead of the World Cup selection, the country’s largest trade union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) called for Meyer to be fired following what they referred to as racist choices and a spate of losses suffered by the national team in the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Championship.
The federation said that five black Springbok players had approached it alleging they had been ignored by Meyer because of the colour of their skin.
Meyer moved to defend his choices, insisting he did not consider race when selecting players and instead chose the best team he could.
“I don’t look at colour. I look at the best players. I’m totally committed to transformation and I have a great relationship with my players, ” he said at a press conference before a recent game against Argentina.
Tony Ehrenreich, Cosatu’s spokesman, has now welcomed the newly selected team, saying it is more representative than any of its predecessors.
The country’s sport minister Fikile Mbalula, a former leader of the ANC’s youth league known for his outspoken views on the slow pace of racial transformation in South African sport, has once again called for the country to rally behind the Springboks.
“We must don our green and gold jerseys from now on and throughout the World Cup as a demonstration of a united country that acknowledges its divided past but continues to strive for a non-racial, democratic and united South Africa, ” he said in a statement after the announcement of the Springbok World Cup team.
In 1995 South Africans heeded Mandela’s call to support the Springboks, seizing the chance to start afresh as the Rainbow Nation. This time however, many worry that black and white South Africans may not be as ready to embrace each other as they were more than two decades ago.