In Africa, politics have proved a snag to sporting success

Some of us read about the recent death of Victor Toweel with a mixture of sadness and anger. It reminded me that in 2010, South Africa's sporting prowess will be put to its severest test.

Some of us read about the recent death of Victor Toweel with a mixture of sadness and anger. It reminded me that in 2010, South Africa's sporting prowess will be put to its severest test.

This Rainbow Nation, until 1994 ruled by people with the worst white supremacist credentials in the world since the Nazis, will be expected to stage a successful Fifa World Cup tournament.

They will be expected to perform honourably, as the host nation - as they did in 1996 during the Afcon, which they won.

I was sad at the passing of a great boxer to emerge from Africa, albeit white Africa. Yet I was angry at being reminded of boxer Jake Tuli, who gained fame around the same time.

Tuli could have achieved his real potential if it hadn't been for apartheid. Toweel and heavyweight boxer Gert Potgieter scored big because they were white. Tuli could not because he was not white. My memory of him includes a record he cut with the ManhattanBrothers.

In Southern Rhodesia, whose rulers were in a desperate race to match the whites down south in treating the indigenous people with the same contemptuous disregard for their dignity, we admired Tuli and, somehow, Toweel as well. We even admired Bobby Locke, the big South African golfer, who made his mark before Gary Player.

In Salisbury, we flocked to the Coronation Speedway to watch Ray Amm and Geoff Duke break records on their motorcycles. I can't remember a single one of our own kind ever riding to such fame.

Phone Chanakira did, but his chariot of fire was a bicycle.

In Harare township, the only residents I can remember owning motorcycles were a motor mechanic named Kawadza and a photographer, Barnabas Mukwedeya.

They didn't race their machines, but treated them as others treated their cars - proud possessions, testimony of their prosperity in the midst of the pervasive squalor created by colonialism.

The Beijing Olympics raised African expectations, in an indirect way. The fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, is Jamaican, an Afro-Caribbean who astonished the Olympiad with his amazing speed in the 100 and 200 metre races. His performance reminded me of the great African athletes of old, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia and Kenya's Kipjoge Keino.

Bikila, running barefoot, was the first African to win a gold medal in the Olympics, in Athens in 1960.

In Mexico City, at the summer Olympics in 1968, Keino won the 1500m gold medal, defeating the favourite and world-record holder Jim Ryn of the US by 20m, the largest winning margin in the history of the event. He won many other races before retiring in 1973.

Others have distinguished themselves in other sports, including football legends Roger Milla and George Weah.

Yet, in many instances poli- tics has proved an impediment to sporting success. The DRC, Somalia and Libya are prime examples. They teem with talent of every description, but their political profiles are so scarred with tragedy that the potential for sporting heroism may never be realised.

Our politicians are so self-absorbed in their own petty, greedy, selfish pursuits. Most of them have little or no time to help promote the sporting aspirations of their people.

Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry succeeds in spite of, rather than because of Robert Mugabe's antics.

If Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki let their political egos balloon into Table Mountain proportions, 2010 could be a disa- ster, not just for South Africa, but for Africa as well.

lBill Saidi is deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe