JOHANNESBURG: They say you don’t win silver, you lose gold – but I celebrated the bronze medal won by Anaso Jobodwana, 23, in his 200m dash with the same intensity as I did the 400m gold medal won by Wayde van Niekerk, another South African, at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing this week.
Otherwise, back home in Africa, I would have been a little depressed to hear my childhood hero, President Robert Mugabe, announce a 10-point plan to reinvigorate an ailing Zimbabwe economy that continues to punch below its weight.
Or I would have grudgingly applauded President Salva Kiir of South Sudan for coming to his African senses to sign the peace agreement, in spite of reservations.
Once in a while, it takes non-economic developments such as the performance of our sports stars to light up the horizon for Afro-optimists like me to keep on believing.
“I was desperate,” Jobodwana said after clocking a national record of 19.87, behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin. “My coach told me, ‘Just run as desperate as Wayde looked in the 400m final’.”
Perhaps Jobodwana’s coach should train some of our African leaders to be desperate for a solution when dealing with the type of internecine conflict we have in South Sudan – or the needless and self-inflicted economic slump in Zimbabwe.
There is another bright story about a 23-year-old that I will share later. But for now let me be realistic about the two headlines of the week that weigh heavily on my otherwise Afro-enthusiastic heart: South Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Lest I sound like someone not quite au fait with my history, South Sudan and Sudan are the enduring scars of colonialism in Africa.
The brutality and self-destructive tendencies we see there are not the inherent qualities of Africans.
They can be traced back to the deeds of those who came to Africa to pillage and rob, not ashamed to use African against African to advance not so much political but economic interests.
My dilemma is why we seem content to allow such a colonial influence to overstay its welcome through the continuation of conflict formatted around the discredited colonial map of our continent.
Why would Kiir deem it permissible to delay signing the overdue peace plan by even a week?
Did it matter to him that, according to reports, 50 000 people had been killed and more than a million displaced in the conflict since the 2013 fallout with his erstwhile deputy, Riek Machar?
The recognition of South Sudan in July 2011 had come at a high enough cost in human lives for Kiir to have delayed the plan facilitated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Horn of Africa bloc and the August 17 deadline.
Kiir refused to sign the deal, merely saying he “needed more time”.
His counterpart had signed it, although there were doubts about whether his followers would observe the agreement.
Kiir continues to have reservations, but he signed it anyway.
There is no doubt that the peace deal is not perfect, and in a country where deals have been made and reneged on it is not unlikely that this one may fail.
South Sudan’s situation is such that we should resort to the blunder-forward-rather-than-stand-still-in-a-crisis mentality.
Better late than never, I guess, but the body language of the leader of what could be East Africa’s biggest oil producer left a tad too much to be desired this time.
In his state of the nation address this week, Mugabe spoke of his plan to revive Zimbabwe’s economy.
He spoke of dealing with corruption, revamping parastatals, even modernising labour laws to make the country an investors’ favourite destination again.
In the absence of context, this would have been a brilliant speech.
However, my elder is sounding increasingly like a run-of-the-mill politician, not the African icon he should be.
Why do I seem to appreciate the centrality of Zimbabwe to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region rather than its immediate past chairman?
Zimbabwe is geographically and economically supposed to be the capital of SADC. It has the highest literacy rate in Africa, mineral endowments of unmatched depth and breadth, and tourist attractions.
It shares borders with most of the important communities of the region, and possesses an entrepreneurial culture to turn even the driest of economic spells into opportunity.
Still, its economic growth is beginning to look like that of the regional laggards, and not even the useful reforms of its financial services sector can save an economy that is perennially undermined by its indecisive leadership.
As a result, its talent seeps out in all directions to benefit neighbouring economies, and investors are half-hearted about their next move.
Still, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, the Head of State and of Government, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Zimbabwe, Comrade RG Mugabe nonchalantly delivers a 10-point plan to incredulous yawns and boos.
So much for what he said at the recent SADC summit about preserving the legacy of Africa’s founders: he is trashing his own.
While I was musing over the death of Roger Kebble and all the other spirit-dampening headlines of the week, I had the distinguished honour of interviewing a 23-year-old millionaire from KwaZulu-Natal over the phone.
Please look him up. I still hope to meet young founder and chief executive officer of the Global Forex Institute who, along with partner George van der Riet, founded a business to “to bring affordable, effective forex training that works, to the masses”.
Celebrated as the youngest self-made millionaire, Sandile Shezi told me that he was always going to be an entrepreneur.
When other kids were spinning tops at school, he asked his mother to buy him many tops so he could sell them.
Then there were muffins, before he went to varsity. He cautiously mentioned that he did not finish university, and managed to evade telling me why, but he is certainly the kind of leader Africa needs.
Many kids like him are going to waste as political leaders contemplate their manifestos and 10-point plans. Crime lures them, drugs erode them and despondency imprisons them.
How I managed to stress about South Sudan and Zimbabwe’s inexertion, only to be exhilarated by 23-year-olds like Jobodwana and Shezi, goodness only knows.
The saying “If youth had the wisdom, and the aged had the strength” seems inept for once. “Oh, wisdom,” to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, “thou art fled to ambitious youth of Africa – and the elders have lost their sense of urgency!”
Africa’s chance lies in following the lead of 23-year-olds such as these and in fuelling democracy out of the kind of desperation that propelled Jobodwana to share the podium with his idols, Bolt and Gatlin, who had left him dead at the 2012 Olympics.
What we need to excel, or to sink lower than our rightful capacity, lies in us Africans.
* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, anchor of CNBC Africa’s weekly show Africa Business News, and anchor of the daily show Power Hour on PowerFM. He writes in his personal capacity. This article is from the Sunday Indepedent.