Former Springbok rugby captain Francois Pienaar visited Christel House in Ottery on Tuesday June 13.
Pienaar told pupils sport is not just a game, but a powerful tool which has the ability to teach people many valuable lessons on and off the field.
Having retired from professional rugby, Pienaar, who led his team to victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, now channels all his energy into giving back, particularly through his NPO, the Make-A-Difference (MAD) Leadership Foundation.
Founded in 2003, the foundation aims to identify academically talented pupils and harness their potential by offering them support in academics, leadership and life-skills.
Mr Pienaar stressed the importance of children being given every possible opportunity to succeed, especially those who come from impoverished communities and don’t have the necessary resources.
“What if South Africa’s next president is sitting in one of these communities? What if the cure for cancer is trapped inside the brilliant mind of one of these children? We’d never know unless organisations like Christel House give them a chance; an opportunity to be the best that they can possibly be,” he said.
Pienaar entertained the pupils at Christel House with numerous anecdotes from the period leading up to and following South Africa’s victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
He said the support of the late president Nelson Mandela was instrumental in changing racial and cultural perceptions toward the traditionally-Afrikaner sport and in uniting South Africans around a common cause.
Pienaar explained it was during this period he came to understand the importance of using sport as a tool to unite people and work towards developing an understanding of one another’s cultures.
He recalled taking his teammates to Robben Island for the first time, where Mandela was incarcerated for most of his 27 years in prison. “It was such an emotional experience and it stayed with us throughout the World Cup tournament. We couldn’t have asked for a better leader than Mr Mandela”, said Mr Pienaar.
Despite having enjoyed a highly successful international sporting career, Mr Pienaar still maintains that education should always come first. “Rugby, like any other sport, eventually comes to an end”, he said.
“And when it does, you need to have something concrete to fall back on. This is where education is paramount,” he said.