We all win with true freedom

Julius Malema. ANC Youth League President @ presso.  24/4/2008. Pic: Russell Roberts. © Financial Mail.


Julius Malema. ANC Youth League President @ presso. 24/4/2008. Pic: Russell Roberts. © Financial Mail. ------ 15cm

I AM becoming disillusioned with the place of sport in our society. It is becoming clearer to me that those who say that sport is the opiate of the people might just have a point.

I never thought I as an avid sports lover would ever live to say this. And it does not have anything to do with the uncharacteristic decline in the fortunes of that blessed institution founded by our forward thinking compatriots in Orlando back in 1937.

My consternation comes from how we as a society have reacted to two questions of leadership in the past fortnight or so.

The unlamented dismissal of national football team coach Joel Santana unleashed all sorts of debates as to who should replace him. Newspaper letters' pages, radio talk-shows, pubs, and any place where people gathered, discussed whether a local or foreign coach ought to take over. It was a passionate and lively discussion that cut through race, class, gender, levels of education and any other divide.

About the same time, former cabinet minister Kader Asmal expressed his thoughts about some ANC leaders. He used colourful language, as he is wont, to say what he thought of them and some policy decisions.

While we engaged civilly about Santana, Jomo Sono, Clive Barker and others, the discussion about stewardship of the fight against crime turned vulgar and childish. Some expressed death wishes for those whose opinions they did not like. It did not end there.

A few days later, President Jacob Zuma all but endorsed Julius Malema as a future ANC president (and by implication and if the party does indeed rule until Jesus returns) president of the republic.

As with anything pertaining to Malema, the endorsement was controversial. Rightly so. Anyone who would be a leader of South Africa's most important political party must undergo some public scrutiny. It is nothing personal.

Why is it that we can be so excitable about whether Aaron Mokoena should be in the Bafana team, let alone captain it, but we deem it beyond our modest competencies to engage on whether we agree with Zuma's assessment of Malema's abilities?

Why must the subject of who is best able to lead our country be an act of bravery or open only to members of a political party?

What is the point of calling us free if we cannot participate in the affairs of our nation?

By choosing to sideline ourselves from one of the most important discussions we can have as a young democracy, we are perpetuating a situation where we have no standards against which we measure those who want authority to lead us.

There must be something wrong with a society that thinks it disrespectful to talk about who should be its future leader but is happy to expend much energy and time on what is ultimately a pastime.

None of us, including those who dearly love sport, seriously buy into Bill Shankly's line that football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that.

Sport is great, but it is not more important than the institutions we leave our children and grandchildren.

There are many good values we can all learn from sport, such as teamwork, discipline and the desire to be a winning nation, but we should be careful that we don't get carried away .

Unfortunately we seem to still have our priorities a bit skewed. We are an all-play and little-work nation.

If we demanded of our leaders and ourselves what we demand from our sports personalities, we would be much closer to being a winning nation all round.