South Africa has delivered a stunning performance so far in this year’s Games, winning in spectacular fashion. Writing from London, I think this high-achieving lot could do more – maybe they should even run the country.
Watching Oscar Pistorius cross the finish line at the 400 meters at the Olympics is a moment for the ages. Seeing Caster Semenya carry the flag at the opening ceremony was a tear-jerking moment.
Much of the attention has come with a side of patronising “look how far this country has come” pap from international media. But maybe they have a point.
What does this group have in common? They have overcome adversity that many South Africans can’t comprehend. And they have not just overcome, they have excelled.
So it’s not entirely in jest that I suggest that they could do a good deal better than the current lot in setting an example and running this country.
I even suggest a name for their party: The Supermen.
Here are lessons that they can teach us.
Remember: a hug is just a hug
The embrace between Sizwe Ndlovu and John Smith was beautiful. But it was just a hug.
A few months back, the Democratic Alliance ruffled feathers with this ad featuring an interracial couple. While Sizwe and Smith’s embrace was platonic, it was cast in the international news for being some sort of historic moment.
It shouldn’t. It was two teammates hugging after winning a gold medal. They happened to be of different races. So what? Get over it.
But it does make the leadership’s race-baiting antics look awfully silly, doesn’t it?
It’s not about what you are, but what you can do
Semenya has had a hard year. It was sweet justice to see her carrying South Africa’s flag at the opening ceremony.
All the tests in the world didn’t do anything to change what Caster Semenya is: a South African.
But, to go into the particulars: intersex births are very common in South Africa. A leader who has been through the humiliation, the scrutiny and the trauma is one who can relate better to others who are dealing with the same.
And she certainly hasn’t let it get in the way of kicking ass.
Meanwhile, critics have made a hullaballoo over Lindiwe Mazibuko not being “black enough,” with the minister of education even using a slur to describe her as being “black on the outside, white on the inside.” Are we going to test for this too now? How about letting her do her job for a change?
Recognise people’s abilities
The 2001 Census says there are at least 2.2 million disabled South Africans. Out of 50 million people, that’s a group too large to be ignored. Yet we do – many public facilities in Johannesburg have limited or no access for people who are not fully mobile.
That’s 2.2 million South Africans who can’t get into the same malls, the same restaurants, and the same buildings as the rest of us.
There is simply no excuse for this. None.
That’s the same thing that Pistorius’ family told him growing up: even though society views you as disabled, there is no excuse for not doing your best.
Which brings us to …
Enough with the excuses
Do you see Pistorius blaming his grandmother for not giving him any legs?
He could have, ostensibly: it was genetic. But he doesn’t.
But Jacob Zuma blamed the Limpopo textbook scandal on a leader who has been dead for decades. No, Hendrik Verwoerd doesn’t deserve a lot of sympathy. And yes, he set up a bad system that still has an enduring legacy. But it’s a safe bet to say that he did not dump those textbooks into the river this year (as much as he may have wanted to).
Don’t underestimate us
Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer of all time, was edged out by a young man from Durban. Chad le Clos revered Phelps growing up. Then he beat him.
South Africa needs leaders who can not only hold their own on the world stage, but who can occasionally surprise the big boys with skill and talent. Instead we have Julius Malema. Enough said.
You can do good with privilege
The Financial Times has thrown a bit of cold water on the success of black South Africans at the Games. They point out that Pistorius was born rich and that Ndlovu is no township tramp, but rather a product of the exclusive Mondeor High School.
Well, so what? Our other rich, prominent figures are using their money to eat sushi off women’s bodies. Meanwhile, Ndlovu is inspiring a generation.
If that’s what an elite education buys, that’s money well spent.
And that argument doesn’t hold at all for Semenya – who truly was born poor and underprivileged.
So, officials, instead of rewarding the Supermen with the cash when they get home, step aside and let them do your jobs (okay, fine, let them run for it: this is still a democracy). They’re inspiring, hardworking and diverse – everything South Africa deserves its leadership to be. DM
Anita Powell is very happy to be a Johannesburg-based journalist. But she also has travelled around in search of a good story: to Iraq, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Congo and to the great nation-state of Texas. She's in London walking the streets and covering the Games - specifically, her favorite sport of all time: boxing.
Despite receiving a knighthood from the Queen, Bill Gates cannot use the title "Sir" due to his being American.