During the apartheid years the Springbok emblem came to symbolise the evil of white majority rule.
Mandela’s statement that day was brave, politically risky but ultimately a piece of genius.
At a time when the rainbow nation was a new concept, it prompted optimism that South Africa could develop as a peaceful and successful multi-racial society.
The South African team that won in 1995 fielded just one black player; compare that to Kolisi’s men who speak several different languages and come from a variety of backgrounds.
Some privileged, some like their black captain, from extreme poverty.
So, there has been progress.
The country may still suffer the same economic hardship; it has serious crime issues and corruption is endemic, but it also has Siya Kolisi, a man whose story is the embodiment of what is possible.
Whenever a moment transcends the sport it is framed by, it is an opportunity for good and cause for celebration.
And this is one of those moments.
But Japan has served up many others in the past two months, maybe not as significant, but memorable nevertheless.
It was before the tournament even began that we were given an indication of just what type of hosts the Japanese might be.
Wales’ opening training session in Kitakyushu drew a crowd of 15,000 onlookers.
Kamaishi, devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, hosted Uruguay and Fiji.
It was a match that carried so much significance for this coastal city, flattened in the tragedy, losing more than 1,000 of its inhabitants.
Kamaishi was due to hold a second, but as Typhoon Hagibis ripped through the country, Canada against Namibia was called off.
Once the giant storm had passed through, Canada’s players took to the streets to help the local community with their clean-up operation.
They swept away mud and cleared debris; the spirit of rugby shining in the wake of tragedy.
Somehow, they got the game on and the Brave Blossoms rewarded everyone with a thrilling brand of rugby that sent Scotland home and ensured they became the first ever Asian team to make the knock-out stages.
A staggering 55 million people watched the game on television in Japan.
Rugby is not a major sport here but nevertheless the people threw themselves into this tournament; grounds were all but full to bursting at every game and likewise the fan zones.
When Japan weren’t playing, locals would adopt a team to support and come to the matches wearing a replica shirt and face paint.
The half time karaoke sessions within stadia on game days were something that should be compulsory at every ground in every sport across the globe from now on.
They have been both kind and enthusiastic hosts.
If the Japanese provided some of the most exciting, skilful and risk averse rugby of the tournament, England gave the best performance.
There is no question their crushing of New Zealand in the semi-final will stand the test of time.
It was as near perfect as is possible but may in the end have been their undoing.
Whatever the reasons, their showing on the biggest of days was as bad as they’d been outstanding the week before.
Maybe though that’s what the rugby Gods had always intended.