"I have had some of the most intimate moments of my life with Madiba (Nelson Mandela). There is a sincerity and openness about him that affected millions. Our relationship was incredible. It grew enormously after 1995.
"That was the start of the journey, not the end. He was a special, special person. I wish I had the words now to give a fitting tribute but I can't find them, I just can't." (F Pienaar)
Jacobus François Pienaar (b.January 2, 1967), is one of the most famous South Africans ever, as well as one of the most successful Springbok rugby captains of all time. He made his first-class rugby debut for Transvaal in 1989, going on to win 100 caps for the province, 89 of them as captain. Pienaar was among the great modern captains because he was both charismatic and filled with almost zealous self-belief; he led by example and won utmost respect on and off the field of play. An incredibly committed player, brave to the point of recklessness, Pienaar seemed to consider there was no ball that he could not make his own
A born leader, he was appointed captain for his first international appearance and he maintained this role in all of the 29 games played for his country.
With Pienaar at the helm, the Springboks enjoyed 15 successive Test victories between 1994 - 1995, and he is widely recognised as one of the most inspirational captains in the history of the game.
During 1995, he was awarded Rugby Personality of the Year in Britain, whilst South Africa named him Newsmaker of the Year. Nine years later, his home country would also vote him 50th in a poll naming the top 100 South Africans.
Jacobus Francois Pienaar was born into a working class Afrikaner family in Vereeniging in Gauteng, South Africa on 2 January 1969.Francois Pienaar was the eldest of four boys
Demonstrating natural leadership skills and a keen enthusiasm for a variety of sports, he was awarded an athletics scholarship at the Rand Afrikaner University in Johannesberg, where he undertook a Law degree upon completion of schooling.
It was rugby which really captured his attention though and he was a regular spectator at local Transvaal rugby matches during his university years. Spending evenings watching their training sessions and learning new skills, little did he know that he would debut for the side in 1989. He would go on to make 100 appearances for Transvaal as a flanker, captaining the team on 89 occasions and enjoying victories in the Currie Cup in 1993 and 1994, the Lion Cup, the Super 10 and the Night Series.
The South African Rugby Football Union was formed in 1992 and the team, omitting Pienaar from selection at this stage, joined their new Southern Hemisphere rivals, Australia and New Zealand, in a Test match to mark the occasion.
Pienaar was given the opportunity to represent his country in the following year and he made his first appearance for the Springboks.
Pienaar continued to impress in the national team too, with Transvaal retaining the Currie Cup in 1994 and, in 1995, the country looked forward to its first World Cup despite entering the tournament as the underdog.
Dressed in a replica of the captain’s No 6 playing shirt, Nelson Mandela presented the trophy to Pienaar on 24th June. Mandela would later become the godfather to his son.
Pienaar left the international game following comments by the then coach Andre Markgraaff, that he had faked an injury as South Africa hosted the Tri Nations. After being left out of the South African side following the controversial decision, which would later be overturned by the South African Rugby Football Union, Pienaar never played for his country again.
He moved to England shortly after, becoming a player/ coach for London club, The Saracens. Under his direction, the club enjoyed a success in the Tetley’s Bitter Cup and finished the season in second place, thus earning their qualification into the European Cup. It was an achievement that Pienaar repeated in the following two seasons, when the club finished in third and fourth places. After his success on the field, he became Chief Executive Officer of Saracens in 2001 but, after a string of defeats, left two years later.
In 2002, he returned to South Africa and later became Chief Executive Officer of the Rugby World Cup Bid Committee, hoping to bring the 2011 World Cup tournament to South Africa for the first time since their spectacular victory. The privilege was eventually awarded to New Zealand.
Pienaar remains in South Africa where he lives in Cape Town with his wife Nerin Winter and two sons. He named Nelson Mandela godfather of his twop sons (Jean & Stephane). He has co-authored an autobiography, Rainbow Warrior, with Edward Griffiths and serves as color commentator for ITV Sport during the Rugby World Cup. He is active in charity work with Sargent Cancer Care for Children and the Reach for a Dream Foundation in South Africa. In November, 2000 Pienaar was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Hertfordshire in Great Britain.
Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela are the subject of a 2008 book by author John Carlin entitled, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation that spotlights the 1995 Rugby Union World Cup during post-apartheid South Africa. The film rights were bought by American actor Morgan Freeman for the 2009 film Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Pienaar.