Mega‐events are short‐term high‐profile events like Olympics and World Fairs that always have a significant urban impact. They re‐prioritize urban agendas, create post‐event usage debates, often stimulate urban redevelopment, and are instruments of boosterist ideologies promoting economic growth. While mega‐events have normally been the preserve of industrial/postindustrial cities, the bid for the 2004 Olympics by Cape Town, South Africa represented the first bid from Africa, and the most successful bid to date from a developing country. The unique theme of the Cape Town bid was human/urban development — a contradiction given the elitist and commercial nature of mega‐events — and yet a direct response to problems created by the apartheid city. The developmental aspects of the Cape Town bid are assessed in their South African context in order to ascertain whether development was only a legitimation for business interests (or growth machines) or whether and how the mega‐event would contribute to urban restructuring. It is concluded that the bid represented a form of urban/national boosterism that repositioned Cape Town and South African interests in the global economy — particularly relevant given its previous apartheid pariah status. As a pro‐growth strategy advocated by political and economic elites, the Olympic bid was less important as a sporting event at the grassroots than as a symbol of expectations of economic betterment. Whether mega‐events like the Olympics can carry such far‐reaching objectives within their more specific mandates is a matter for further reflection.