SA shooting for the stars
"Space race: SA 1 - Oz 0" read the SMS which did the rounds after Mark Shuttleworth went into orbit in 2002. It was an amusing update to the age-old sporting rivalry with Australia.
After a spell of painful introspection, some might say navel-gazing, about art and its effect on presidential dignity down here on Earth, by the end of last week there was at least something to cheer about being South African. Our past is shameful and has damaged us in a way that will take generations to heal. In this torrid election year, we can do with a reminder that we should look at the bigger picture. And find our sense of humour again.
Pretoria's new favourite son is not a rugby player or Boer War general, ironically, but Elon Musk, a rampantly serial entrepreneur who has just proudly launched the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. SA 2 - Oz 0.
Since Nasa retired its shuttle fleet earlier this year, Musk's company, SpaceX, has become the bold new pioneer in space flight.
Additionally, on Friday, the next chapter in humanity's search for relevance in and understanding of our universe was finalised when South Africa was announced as the big winner in the Square Kilometre Array space radio-telescope race.
In a slightly controversial decision, about 70% of the $2-billion contract was awarded to our technically superior bid, the rest to Australia and New Zealand, the other bidder. SA 3 - Oz 0. Or, technically, SA 2.75 - Oz 0.25.
It would be a bit much to say South Africa is some kind of emerging space player but we need a good reason to be proud of ourselves because the art scandal has been such a terrible reminder of how easily great achievements can be rendered into farce.
The world stared in amazement after our triumphant elections 18 years ago and continues to praise our constitution as among the greatest in the world.
It enshrines freedom of expression, one of the most important freedoms fought for. Threatening artists and newspapers is not in its spirit or that of the people who wrote it.
So a bit of genuine good news about South African triumphs, however brief, is great cause for celebration. And a worthwhile amount of national pride. South Africa can hardly claim to have played a large role in Musk's recent successes, but he's proof of my contention that our best exports are South Africans themselves. What he represents is a thriving innovative spirit, an entrepreneur in an age that seems more concerned with patent lawsuits, minuscule improvements to existing technologies or over-priced start-ups that deliberately keep their revenue at zero to push up their valuation.
We need pioneers like Musk or Nelson Mandela or Nikola Tesla or Steve Biko to remind us that anything is possible.
Musk - who has built several businesses, starting with PayPal, then SpaceX and electric-car maker Tesla - will soon be likened to the great innovator Steve Jobs. And he deserves it. Perhaps most impressive is that Musk designed a lot of the technology in the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft.
Meanwhile, the SKA is a testament to the brilliance of our scientists and the strength of our engineering and the little town of Carnarvon is now going to be a centre for some of the most exciting research into the history of the universe. It's not as sexy as a rocket, but it's no less important.