12 days with Zuma: The curse of Big Moment Ego

2011-05-10 19:46

Today we got the lecture about the difference between VIP and VVIP and the fact that, while we hacks are an extended part of the Commander in Chief’s (CiC) entourage, we are very, very far from achieving the latter.

The lecture in question was delivered by a serious, self-important local ANC official at Nokaneng in the Dr JS Moroka municipality in that weird, forgotten-by-everybody part of Mpumalanga which borders Polokwane and which nobody seems to want to take responsibility for.

We arrived ahead of the CiC (President Jacob Zuma) who has the flu and a banged-up knee and who spent part of the morning beings seen to by the SANDF doctor who travels with him, and immediately fell foul of what can only be described as BME – Big Moment Ego.

From the time we arrived after a rather scenic 90 minutes on dirt road from the N1 to Polokwane, we were ordered around by everybody, from ANC marshals to traffic cops to SAP members to an angry, short pensioner who took exception to our smoking in public. When you’re on the road with the CiC this happens regularly. You arrive in the back of beyond and every person who gets caught up in his visit – and their own ego – takes a turn at ordering you around.

So we’re approached by a comrade with a VVIP tag, who tells us that as media, we are VIPs, and will get tags saying so, but we can forget, forever, about getting VVIP tags as these are reserved for “the really important people, Jacob Zuma and his entourage, comrade’’.

Fair enough. So photographic genius Khaya Ngwenya and I wander off, firmly put in our places, and decide to have a smoke. From nowhere, this very old, very angry man puffs himself up and goes on the offensive, haranguing us until we take cover in the bush.

From there it was more of the same – being shunted around by comrade after comrade. The weirdest part is that the most vitriolic of our tormentors are always the short guys. Neither Khaya nor I are midgets, and we’ve come to believe that our height makes the vertically challenged see red.

Anyhow, enough of midgets, control freaks and cigarettes. The CiC arrived looking a bit worse for wear, begging forgiveness from the local traditional leaders who he addressed with a hoarse voice as he had the flu. They listened intently as he tried to build bridges between them and local ANC councillors, with whom they have been engaged in some low-level warfare over who calls the shots.

From there it was off to a roadside rally, where he launched into the ANC 101 lecture before getting down to some pretty effective vote hustling, quoting the divine and other authorities for the legitimacy of the ruling party. The ANC, he told the punters who came to hear him, was born blessed and would continue to be the custodian of God’s land until the return of the Son of God.

Despite his illness, and his gammy knee, the CiC was still up to belting out a gravelly, Tom Waits-like version of Awuleth’ Umshini Wami and got down with gospel legend Solly Moholo and his group, who were sharing the bill with the CiC. Zuma’s doctor looked less than impressed.

Solly, who is himself like Jesus in parts of South Africa such as Nokaneng, then took over the show as the CiC prepared to leave, hammering out remixed ANC numbers from his new album, which he was quick to tell the punters is on sale from next week – for only R50, comrade.

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