The death of Chester Williams hit me very, very hard today. I’ve written before how much the World Cup Final between South Africa and New Zealand mattered … the subject of the movie Invictus. And how important Chester was to that victory and the future of South Africa. In how he delivered the first big tackle to Jonah Lomu that set the tone for the entire game. It was at that moment I began to believe we could somehow win. Chester carried a heavy weight on his shoulders as the sole black on the team. People worried he was a “token player” and it was a fair concern because he was the first black to make it. I’d been studying him intensely all tournament (who hadn’t?) and knew he deserved to be there. But sports can be cruel and heroics seemed too much to hope for. Then, as I saw Lomu shudder and collapse, I began to hope and believe … and hope and believe … and then simply hoped and prayed and hung on until the end … like all the players on both sides. The greatest game of all time in which no one could score.
I cried like a baby after that game — the only game that ever mattered so much — and the deepest tears were because of Chester. If we’d won but he’d been a liability on the field, it would have been a setback to a country’s future. Instead, he had the game of a lifetime. And whites experienced pride and love for the gift of a black man’s pure courage in an arena that they understood viscerally. Many for the first time. The celebration of Chester was perhaps the first, honest, positive feeling that all colours could experience together.
I am sorry he died so young. But he is a legend and had 24 years of that knowledge. I will never forget my admiration of and debt to him.