Adrian Steirn, one of the preeminent photographers and filmmakers in South Africa, has captured their spirits in a series that is as intimate as it is compelling.
Each short film is accompanied by a striking black and white portrait of the participants in the series, which appears in a weekend paper on the same day that the film is flighted. These portraits will be made available for sale at an auction later this year, with all proceeds going to charity.
Francois Pienaar has selected the Make A Difference (MAD) Foundation as the recipient of funds generated through the sale of his portrait. Steirn adds that he wanted to capture Pienaar to be shown to be a man who, despite extraordinary, unparalleled accomplishment, remains grounded and connected to his family.
Pienaar seems slightly taken aback by the impact that South Africa’s World Cup triumph had on the country. He explains to Steirn: “I think it was only after the tournament that I realised that it was so much more than just another sporting event. Certainly during the tournament I had a very good sense that something special was happening in our country. It was amazing to be served breakfast in the hotel by a black lady who said, ‘You must eat enough because tomorrow you guys are playing Australia’. It struck me that, firstly, she knew who we were playing against and, secondly, she was genuinely concerned that I would have enough to eat and be ready to play.”
He recalls seeing a groundswell starting to happen. “When we got to the final, obviously I knew that it was huge for South Africa, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would be so big.”
It was only after the event that Pienaar truly grasped the enormity of the process that the country had been through in just six weeks. “It actually healed the nation and made us proud to be together, to be one. We became world champions,” Pienaar reflects.
This, he continues, is the unifying power of sport. “Whenever there’s a World Cup, whether it’s for soccer, rugby, cricket or the Olympic Games, when an athlete participates, he or she runs for every person in their country. That’s so powerful. It makes people proud, it makes them stand up and take notice of hard work and respect, dignity, selflessness, all those things that go into sport. It’s a very powerful vehicle.”
Pienaar also sees education as a silver bullet capable of meeting South Africa’s challenges, “I have always maintained that the leaders of tomorrow need our leadership today. South Africa needs leaders to stand up and follow in the footsteps of Mandela,” he avers.
Reflecting on his relationship with Nelson Mandela, he and his family were personally touched by Madiba a number of times: not only did Mandela phone him on the day of his youngest son, Jean’s, birth and request to be his godfather; he also agreed to fill this role for Pienaar’s oldest son Stefan, after the boy plucked up the courage to ask him personally.
He maintains that there are, indeed, icons that will lead our country into the future – they simply need their time to come. It’s important, though, that they step forward. Pienaar laments the fact that so many leaders speak about Madiba and his magic, yet they don’t live it for themselves. This is what the country needs, he insists, particularly if we are to fulfil our potential.
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