South Africa
Mandela made me feel so comfortable: Pienaar
ESPN Staff
December 16, 2013
Nelson Mandela was laid to rest after funeral procession in his homeland of Qunu © Getty Images

Francois Pienaar has remembered Nelson Mandela in a television interview broadcast on Sunday, hours after the former president was laid to rest in a state funeral in his rural homeland in South Africa's Eastern Cape.

"[He] made me feel so comfortable, wanted to know who I am, really, really cared about me as a person," Pienaar said on Carte Blanche of Mandela, with whom the former Springboks captain shared the most iconic moment of modern rugby history at the Rugby World Cup 1995 final. "It was so nice afterwards to see his smile when he celebrated with us after I had the privilege to lift the cup, and for the first time in our country's very fragile, very young democracy we were world champions. We were all winners."

Pienaar, dressed in his Springboks blazer, recalled the moments leading up to the World Cup and his first meeting with Mandela after he was invited to the president's office.

"Why? Why does he want to see me and then what will I say?" Pienaar said of Mandela's call. "So I had no clue what the conversation was going to be about. When I was sitting outside his office ... He heard that I was there and he walked out and he was walking toward me. He's a big man. Strong man. I was taken by his size.

"[He] shook my hand and then immediately spoke Afrikaans. Our conversation for the next hour was predominantly in Afrikaans. He shared some wonderful stories about his village, about him, about Robben Island, about sport and about Apartheid. And we had this hour-long conversation having tea. I've said this many times. After that meeting I was taken by how genuine a person he is."

Pienaar's greatest memory was of Mandela wearing one of the captain's jerseys to the final, cementing his support for the Springboks, winning over the rugby-loving white South Africans and changing the attitudes of black South Africans towards a team they had previously linked with Apartheid.

"The [dressing room] door opened and in walked Mr Mandela and he had worn a Springbok jersey and he just said 'Good luck', and he turned around and my number was on his back and that was me," Pienaar said. "I was so emotional I couldn't sing the anthem ... I could not sing the anthem because I would just start crying."

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