It was exactly 20 years ago, on June 24, 1995, that South Africa beat rival New Zealand to win that year’s Rugby World Cup. It was the first World Cup for South Africa, as the nation had been kept out of the competition during apartheid, so the victory was a meaningful one—but, as anyone who has seen the 2009 film Invictus knows, the game was even more meaningful for what happened off the field.
In South Africa, rugby had been seen as a sport for white Afrikaaners, but President Nelson Mandela saw that the tournament could be a chance for a broader social reconciliation. As TIME reported that May, the sport could herald a united future in which “at rugby matches, thick-necked Afrikaans players stand at attention for the black liberation and nationalist hymn Nkosi Sikelel i Afrika (God Bless Africa).” By the time the 1995 World Cup was over, that vision was much closer to being a reality.
Following Mandela’s death in 2013, TIME published an interview with Francois Pienaar, who had been captain of that 1995 team. Pienaar reflected on his relationship with Mandela, the link between sports and politics, and the moment he realized that June 24 game would go down in history:
Read an interview with Francois Pienaar about Nelson Mandela’s legacy, here in the TIME Vault: A Leader and a Champion
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