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What Mandela’s Captain Did Next

Francois Pienaar helped unite South Africa by leading the country to Rugby World Cup glory. Today, he transforms the country by helping underprivileged children.



Broad and tall, Francois Pienaar is a big man in every sense of the word. A man who ploughs his own furrow. He muscled his way to win the Rugby World Cup before millions of viewers and nearly 20 years later had the guts to dress up as a potato chip in a Lays commercial.

“Sometimes you will be remembered for that, not for the rugby career. When I check-in at the airport the lady at the counter would look at me and say: ‘Oh, the Lays guy,’” says Pienaar.

In many ways, Pienaar is an enigma. He is the law graduate who never argued a case; the conservative Afrikaaner who led his reluctant players to coach black youngsters in the townships; a man as South African as a springbok, who now spends most of his life outside of the country. On the way, he is trying to find the next Pienaar destined for rugby glory.

The image of Pienaar accepting the World Cup trophy from former president Nelson Mandela, dressed in a number six jersey, is one that lived long in the memory.

“Seeing Mr Mandela wearing my jersey was very incredible, emotional and humbling,” says Pienaar.

Overnight Pienaar became a household name through that unifying moment—an Afrikaaner and a former political prisoner together.

“For Mandela to ask everyone in the country to support the Springboks as their team was unusual but also visionary. The 1995 story was a story about human triumph, where a country that was much divided got an opportunity to celebrate together. All religions and creeds became world champions for the first time.”

The celebrity status stuck. In March this year, Pienaar the businessman shared a stage with Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, and Jordan Belfort, the American stockbroker, at the South African Success Summit in Johannesburg, before 5,000 delegates.

Pienaar and Belfort grew up worlds apart but both saw their life stories told by Hollywood. In the 2009 movie Invictus, Matt Damon played Pienaar. Leonardo DiCaprio played Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street.

The only disappointment about the movie for Pienaar was the rugby.

“It’s the human story of how South Africa came together and there are a lot of emotional scenes that I like about it but I don’t like the rugby scenes. They are awful. If you played the game, rugby is more beautiful than what is shown in the movie. But, I can understand it was made for the American audiences.”

Pienaar has business interests in university sports development, media and entertainment but says his initiative, Make A Difference Foundation (MAD), is his way of giving back to the poor. Pienaar is the chairman of MAD and it enjoys the support of other former international captains, such as David Kirk, the first winner of the World Cup for New Zealand in 1987, John Eales of Australia, Martin Johnson of England, John Smit of South Africa and Nick Farr-Jones of Australia.

“Make A Difference gives back to the poor people. We founded it 10 years ago in order to help kids in the townships and impoverished areas,” he says.

“We get them to good schooling and give them financial backing to achieve success. One of our first learners we brought on board will be receiving an engineering degree at Harvard University this year,” says Pienaar.

Pienaar says these days he lives for sport development. He runs a business called Varsity Rugby which was founded in 2008. It gave birth to the Varsity Cup tournament, in which eight universities compete. A second tier competition, the Varsity Shield, arrived in 2011 and was then followed by the under-20 category, Young Guns.

“I am passionate about sport. My first love at school was cricket but rugby took over. I have been very privileged to see how sport can change people; it can transform people as well as communities and a country.”

Varsity Rugby not only makes money, Pienaar says it has produced nine Springboks (players that have represented South Africa internationally) and hundreds of professionals in the domestic leagues.

“Sport is powerful; it can unite or divide a nation. Rugby in the years of apartheid divided us and in the democracy it united us.”

Pienaar was among the first group of South African rugby players to play in Europe. He signed with Saracens in London and became CEO of the club, before returning to Africa to live in Cape Town.

He thinks it is naïve to stand in the way of players who want to maximize their earning potential in the richer overseas leagues. This is the exercising of freedom that Mandela would no doubt have approved of.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020



FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.

JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.


Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope



After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan



Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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