Bullies sully political arena
I never was much of a footballer. In fact, the only reason I made it onto a team was either because I was the only left-footed player around or the soccer ball happened to belong to me, my cousins or our close childhood friends.
In any game in which the soccer ball belonged to us, we seldom lost. This wasn't because our ownership of the ball suddenly turned us into Barcelona FC-type world-beaters. We were often pathetic, actually.
What often saved us was this bully of a friend who, on realising that we were being hopelessly outplayed and had no chance of winning, would just grab the ball and announce that the game was over because it was past his curfew.
The rest of us would follow him off the field, arguing that we could not continue with the match without "his" ball.
Embarrassing as this admission might be, there were moments on Sunday afternoon when I wished Bobby Motaung was such a bully as I watched my beloved Kaizer Chiefs being demolished by Mamelodi Sundowns in a one-sided match at Loftus Versfeld.
In those agonising first 37 minutes, in which the well-oiled Sundowns machine put four goals past Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, I secretly wished Motaung would just march onto the field, grab the ball and stab it with an Okapi knife, like those thuggish soccer administrators of yesteryear.
But Chiefs are no thieves.
The soccer club's owners and multitude of supporters are mature enough to accept defeat no matter how excruciatingly painful it might be.
They know that, in football, as in life generally, you win some and you lose some. You have to take the good with the bad.
This insight is of fundamental importance, especially in a democratic state, where those who contest elections should accept the will of the electorate whether it favours them or not.
Judging by recent political events - especially the weekend's aborted conference of the ANC's OR Tambo region - there is a growing number of bullies who would rather manipulate democratic processes than accept their outcomes.
The entire 1million-plus ANC membership should hang its head in shame over what happened in former president Nelson Mandela's home town, Mthatha.
Second only to the eThekwini region in terms of membership size, OR Tambo is one of the most influential structures in the ruling party.
All eyes were, therefore, on its regional conference.
Many political pundits believed that the outcome of the meeting would have a big effect on the ANC presidential race when the party holds its national conference in December.
A victory for a regional faction led by Thandekile Sabisa would have been viewed as a major boost for those campaigning for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe or Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale to replace President Jacob Zuma as leader of the ANC.
A win for Sabisa's opponent, William Ngozi, on the other hand, would have almost sealed victory for Zuma's bid for a second term because it would have meant that the president had the majority of support in both Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, the biggest provinces in terms of membership for the ANC.
But, because of alleged vote-rigging and manipulation, we will never really know who won this vote.
Signs of trouble were already clear months ago when the region repeatedly postponed the conference amid allegations of "ghost branches" and fake membership lists.
When the conference was finally convened at the weekend, delegates wasted three days loitering around the venue as party leaders bickered over which members qualified to vote.
In the early hours of Monday, provincial and regional leaders finally agreed that 587 delegates would be allowed to participate.
But this was not the end of the conference drama.
A few hours after voting for the regional chairman and other key officials, independent electoral officers were stopped from announcing the winner when the pro-Zuma group complained that more than the designated number of delegates had voted.
Whether their claim was true or not, or if the Zuma group forced the abandoning of the conference to be because it was losing, is now being investigated by Luthuli House, the ANC head office.
What is clear, however, is that one of the two factions had come to the conference with the intention of stealing the election.
If its preferred election outcome proved impossible, it was prepared to force the collapse of the entire conference.
Why must the rest of South Africa care about this, some might ask. Isn't this vote-rigging part of the ANC implosion we have been witnessing for the past seven years?
The internal leadership shenanigans in the ANC would not be of major concern to the rest of us were the ruling party not such a dominant political player.
Surely one of the ways of judging a political party's commitment to democracy is to observe how it respects electoral policies within its ranks.
South Africa is still very far from becoming a failed state in which state and ruling party manipulation render election results suspect.
There are still many democrats, even within the ANC, determined to prevent us going down that road.
But, as more elective ANC conferences end unsatisfactorily, with one group accusing another of vote-rigging and manipulation, one question troubles me: If they can do that to their comrades, what stops them from doing it to the rest of us?