The greatest show on earth

6 August 2016 heralded two significant ceremonies. One was in the wee hours of the morning, the opening spectacle of the 31st Olympic Games held in Rio. The other was the official announcement of the 2016 Local Government Election results in South Africa.

While these two events were held on different continents at different times and were based in two completely different arenas, there’s a lot that they share in common. Let me start by telling you a bit about the Olympic Games.

Until the first modern Olympic Games was held in Athens in April 1896, there were many attempts at recreating the ultimate showpiece of athleticism shown in Ancient Greece. These Ancient Olympic Games, held every four years, were a religious and athletic festival comprising of a competition among representatives of several city-states and kingdoms in Ancient Greece. I’m sure even some of our ancestors in the Judean Hills participated in this most coveted of the four Panhellenic Games — even though this was a most ill-thought of practice by past and perhaps by present Rabbis, as the Hellenist Jews admired the gods of the body and not God of above.

However, the games began to disappear once the Romans established their rule of law over Greece. But the legend of the Games remained in the Greek national consciousness, and after the Greek War of Independence from the Ottomans in the Ottomans in the early 1820s, Greek nationalism bore the idea of a restoration. It was not until a man of great vision, one Baron Pierre de Coubertin, after hearing of successful events hosted in the restored Panathenaic Stadium, reimagined an event to host athletes from around the world, that the Olympic Games as we know them emerged.

Coubertin’s advocacy for the Games centred on a number of ideals about sport. He believed that the early ancient Olympics encouraged competition among amateur rather than professional athletes, and saw value in that.

The ancient practice of a sacred truce in association with the Games might have modern implications, giving the Olympics a role in promoting peace.

This role was reinforced in Coubertin’s mind by the tendency of athletic competition to promote understanding across cultures, thereby lessening the dangers of war. In addition, he saw the Games as important in advocating his philosophical ideal for athletic competition: that the competition itself, the struggle to overcome one’s opponent, was more important than winning. And so the philosophy of the Olympic Games was created. De Coubertin Coubertin’s believed that, “The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well”.

Now let’s turn the clocks forward to the aftermath of the most hotly contested elections since, dare I say, 1948 (I’ve been reading Jan Smuts’ biography, so the aftereffects of that election are still fresh in my mind). Now, I’m not comparing the Nats to the ANC, but this was the first election since 1948 that saw a credible and strong opposition gaining power.

Even without considering the DA- dominated Western Cape, and Cape Town more specifically, the ANC lost significant support in the economic hubs of Gauteng — Ekhuruleni, Tshwane and Johannesburg — and the DA claimed what it had been after for the past five years, Nelson Mandela Bay, the Metro in the heart of ANC territory.

It has been a long time coming. The ANC’s support in urban areas has been dropping steadily since 2009, and although one can’t compare national results to municipal, the ANC garnered 62.15% in 2014 compared to this year’s 54.12%. Was it Zuma’s Nkandla debacle, Guptagate, poor service delivery, or the ANC’s lack of moral backbone that led to this? Perhaps. But it demonstrates that finally South Africans voted with their minds instead of their hearts.

2016 now brings new challenges to the South African political scene. From the formation of coalitions, where compromise is everything, to what happens on a National level, to the effects it will have on the ANC, South Africa will never be the same 021 439 3903 again. The ruling party of 2011 and 2014 will now have to learn how to become diplomats in their own right. Their track record of opposition politics is not a very pretty picture, as one can see in Cape Town. But does one always have to compromise with one’s beliefs and ideals?

De Coubertin’s ideals and vision for the Olympic Games has changed in the modern era. He was greatly influenced by the ethos of the aristocracy in the English public school. They subscribed to the belief that sport formed an important part of education, an attitude summed up in the saying mens sana in corpore sano, ‘a sound mind in a sound body’. In this ethos, a gentleman was one who became an all-rounder, not the best at one specific thing.

There was also a prevailing concept of fairness, in which practicing or training was considered tantamount to cheating. Those who practiced a sport professionally were considered to have an unfair advantage over those who practiced it merely as a hobby.

Today, professionalism is not only accepted, but demanded. Winning is everything — how can a professional athlete not need to be up on the podium? And who remembers who came second?

So too with South Africa’s elections. It is not a hobby, but a full time professional machine. With the ANC apparently spending R1 billion and the DA R350 million on their election campaigns, the other parties were left in the dust. De Coubertin’s motto, that “the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well”, does not cut it in South African politics.

Today the aim is to win, and win big. In politics, winning doesn’t mean a gold medal. But it does mean a place on the podium, an opportunity where your flag can fly along with others. Although your anthem doesn’t ring out on loudspeakers, you can certainly create a visual spectacle alongside the sound of the opposition.

The electioneering for 2019 has already begun, and in earnest.

The DA’s Vision 2029 places itself as the ruling party in the next elections. The ANC will lash out, and lash out hard, to show it is still the party of the people. And the EFF, in their role as kingmaker in Tshwane and Johannesburg, will make their coalition partners concede either ideological or political power. In 2016, winning is imperative. Politics, like sports, is not for sissies.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here