PLAYING THE ENEMY: NELSON MANDELA AND THE GAME THAT MADE A NATION, by John Carlin, Penguin Press, 274 pages, $24.95.

John Carlin, a noted journalist, proposes that during Nelson Mandela's 27 years in a South African prison, he was sustained by the dream that "one day people in South Africa would no longer be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

One of the most inspiring stories in recent history is how Mandela eventually received his freedom, then went on to win the presidency of his country in its first free election in 1994. After 50 years of apartheid, his country remained divided, and therefore he needed some galvanizing cause to bring unity.

Carlin tells the fascinating story of how Mandela decided to use sport, specifically the 1995 Rugby World Cup, hosted by South Africa's Springboks, as a national symbol of equality. The South African team's chances for victory were remote when he conceived the idea, because the team was all-white and seemed to many to be the embodiment of white supremacy.

According to Carlin, Mandela saw the possibility of using the Rugby World Cup to win hearts. "That was why he had been working strenuously to persuade his own black supporters to abandon the entirely justified prejudice of a lifetime and support the Springboks. That was why he wanted to show the Afrikaners in the stadium today that their team was his team too; that he would share in their triumph or their defeat."

Apparently, the issues were so close to the surface that Mandela knew he could be shot or blown up by extremists. If the Springboks were badly defeated, it might make things worse. "Even worse was the prospect of the Afrikaner fans jeering the new national anthem that black South Africans held so dear, or unfurling the hated old orange, blue, and white flag."

Carlin describes the ways that Mandela used his charms and gentle diplomatic style to make the Springboks the symbol of the new South Africa. He was an optimist. When he finished making his plan, South African television carried images of the team singing "Nikosi Sikelele Afrika," the anthem

of black resistance to apartheid.

When 62,000 fans chanted "Nelson! Nelson!" as South Africa faced the heavily favored New Zealand team, the symbol of 42 million South Africans was experiencing an unusual newfound unity. This is a compelling look at Mandela, the historic leader, his personality and his methods. The author is committed to pointing out flaws in Mandela's approach — he could be manipulative and even insincere when he wanted to be.

But overall, he was the right person in the right place, and he had thought deeply about many of the things he would do in government while he was still ensconced in Robben Island Prison. He also had a tremendous amount of charisma that he was able to use in multiple ways.

Although this book focuses on Mandela's use of sport, it also shows a fearless, determined Mandela up close, using his inherent powers of leadership to the advantage of his country and the world.

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