Mandela watches the news coverage of the failing Springboks team on television at home. As he turns it off, a servant brings him some muti and tells him that his daughter has canceled her visit, but did not say why. Mandela looks disappointed and dismisses her.
The scene shifts and we see black children going into a church and receiving clothes from charity workers. As one of the boys approaches the front of the church, a white charity worker hands him a Springboks jersey, thinking he will love it. In fact, he shakes his head and refuses it, running out of the church. The white charity worker turns to the black charity worker, who tells her that the jersey represents apartheid.
We see a meeting of the National Sports Council to discuss the state of the Springboks team. A man stands and says that the colors and emblem must be completely eliminated. He wants all sports teams from South Africa to be known as the Proteas, and suggests that they will vote on the matter. Everyone raises their hands in support of this change.
Mandela goes to speak to the group himself, even though Brenda advises him against it, suggesting that "it gives the impression of autocratic leadership." Mandela insists that he has to show his people that they are wrong in not supporting the Sprinboks. She pleads with him not to risk his political career on something so unimportant as rugby, but Mandela is confident in his conviction.
Mandela enters the meeting of the National Sports Council and everyone claps. As he takes his place the front of the room, he addresses the crowd and tells them that their decision to retire the emblem and colors of the Springboks team is misguided. He tells the crowd that when he was in jail, all of his guards were Afrikaners and that he studied them. In the process, he says, he learned about his enemy in order to prevail, and he now knows that the Afrikaners are not their enemy, but their "partners in democracy."
Mandela continues: "If we take that away, we lose them. We prove that we are what they feared we would be. We have to be better than that. We have to surprise them with compassion, with restraint and generosity. I know, all of the things they denied us. But this is no time to celebrate petty revenge. This is the time to build our nation using every single brick available to us. Even if that brick comes wrapped as green and gold."
In the car, Brenda confronts Mandela about his preoccupation with the issue of rugby. He insists that it is important to focus on rugby because it is such an important part of South African identity. "If we take away what they cherish—the Springboks, their national anthem—we just reinforce the cycle of fear between us. I will do what I must to stop that cycle or it will destroy us," Mandela says.
In the locker room at a Springboks game, Francois gathers his team members and gives them all beer. He raises a toast to defeat and asks his teammates to remember this and never lose again. They all drink and throw their beer against the wall, claiming it tastes bad.
At the president's offices, Jason passes around a schedule for an upcoming trip. The Afrikaners are concerned that there is no time for sleep in the schedule. "If Madiba can do it, we can do it," says Jason.
Mandela makes a speech at the United Nations, then in America, then in Japan. In America, he asks American businesspeople to invest in South Africa. We see Francois' parents watching the news in their home and Mr. Pienaar turns it off, dismissively.
The scene shifts to Mandela getting up early to go for a morning walk with Linga and an Afrikaners bodyguard named Hendrick. He asks Hendrick how his family is doing, and when Hendrick asks about his, Mandela tells him that he considers the country his family. Abruptly, he turns to go back to the house, as Linga tells Hendrick that they are never to ask Mandela about his family, that he is clearly estranged from them.
Mandela reads a headline about the fact that the crime rate is rising in South Africa, as his servant brings him his breakfast. Mandela sees a picture of Francois in the paper and says, "Very good."
Later, at the office, Brenda brings Mandela his paychecks and tells him that he hasn't been collecting his income. When Brenda says it is the same income that the former president got, plus an increase for inflation, Mandela is disapproving, and suggests that it is not right.
That night, Francois, his wife, and his family sit around the television news, as an anchor announces that Mandela has publicly stated that his salary is too high. The newscaster announces that Mandela has elected to donate a third of his monthly income to charity. The phone rings and Francois answers, going into the other room to talk. When he comes back out, he tells his family that Mandela has invited him to tea. Everyone is dumbfounded as the family's black maid tells Francois that he ought to tell Mandela that the bus service is very bad and too expensive.
Francois' wife drives him to his meeting with Mandela, suggesting that he ought not to be nervous, as he didn't even vote. "I play rugby, what am I gonna say to the guy?" he says, worrying that he will appear stupid in front of the president. He walks in as photographers take his picture.
In the security office, the bodyguards discuss the fact that Francois is coming for tea, and Hendrick rushes off, eager to be the one to escort him to Mandela. Linga doesn't know who Francois is, suggesting that he prefers soccer. "You know what they say about soccer: it's a gentlemen's game played by hooligans," Etienne says, "Rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen." Linga dismisses him.
On their way to the office, Hendrick tells Francois how kind Mandela is, saying that he brought him English toffee personally from England. "To him, no one's invisible," he says, bringing Francois into a waiting room. Before he leaves, Hendrick asks Francois about their chances in the World Cup, and Francois says they will do their best. In the security office, Hendrick tells the others that the Springboks don't stand a chance in the World Cup.
Francois meets with Mandela, who asks him about his hurt ankle. A servant brings tea in, which Mandela insists on pouring himself, extolling the gifts of the English, which include rugby and afternoon tea. As they sit and take their tea, Mandela tells Francois that he has a very difficult job, before asking Francois about his philosophy of leadership. "I've always thought to lead by example, sir," Francois says. Mandela likes this answer, but wants to talk about what it would take to get the rugby team to be better than they think they can be. "That is very difficult, I find," Mandela says.
"How do we inspire ourselves to greatness when nothing else will do?" Mandela asks. He then tells a story about his time in prison, and the inspiration he took from a Victorian poem called "Invictus." "Just words, but they helped me to stand when all I wanted to do was to lie down," he says. Francois agrees that poetry can make a huge difference, and that he always has the bus driver put on a song when they are on their way to a game, so that the team can listen to the words together.
Mandela is determined to create unity in the nation at any cost. When he gets wind of the fact that the National Sports Council has voted to completely reconstitute the national rugby team, he goes directly to their meeting to speak with them and convince them to keep the old rugby team. In spite of Brenda's insistence that he ought not to risk looking like an autocrat over the emblem and colors of a rugby team, he is sure that the key to South African peace and unity is to push through the racial friction that has plagued the nation in the past and create a culture of forgiveness and acceptance.
When Mandela addresses the National Sports Council, he gives the people some insight into his ethic of trying to accept and understand the white South Africans. He talks about the fact that when he was in prison for 27 years, all his guards were Afrikaners, and he took his time in confinement to study the language and work of the white man, in order to better understand his enemy. He insists that understanding, forgiveness, and a peaceable attitude are what create victory, and urges the black South Africans to practice such acceptance and understanding moving forward.
Mandela acknowledges the fact that he is championing a generosity that white South Africans have not practiced towards black South Africans, and that during apartheid, Afrikaners denied black South Africans generosity and humane treatment. But he argues that now the black South Africans who have come to power must be stronger than their old oppressors if they want to unite the country and see it flourish. He promotes peace and compassion even in the face of hatred and prejudice.
While Mandela exhibits formidable conviction as a political leader, he has his weak spots, particularly when it comes to his personal life. In one scene, a servant tells Mandela that his daughter has abruptly canceled a trip to come visit him, without giving a reason why. Then, on an early morning walk, a bodyguard makes the mistake of asking Mandela about his family, which sends Mandela rushing back to the house and forgoing his walk. Mandela's isolation from his family evidently connects him even more fully to his role as a leader, but it takes an emotional toll nonetheless.
Mandela sees the South African rugby team as a microcosm of the conflicts of the country at large. It is his belief that, if he can unite the country through rugby, he can unite them in larger ways which motivates him to invite Francois to his office to discuss the team's participation in the World Cup. He speaks to Francois as an equal, and suggests that it takes a great leader to get people to perform better than they thought they could. They bond over their shared belief that poetry and song can bring people together and motivate them.