ANC parties till the early hours

2012-01-08 10:24

There was little regard for time of night – or morning – as the ANC held the mother of all birthday gala dinners in Bloemfontein.

The dinner, which started in the late afternoon yesterday and went on till 3am this morning, was attended by a long list of former and current heads of state or their representatives.

Amongst the dignitaries who walked the red carpet were former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda, who was most warmly received with chants of “KK” and who broke into song in parts of his speech, Mozambican president Armando Guebuza, who said the ANC “is part of Africa”, and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who left by midnight and delegated a representative to deliver a speech on his behalf.

Former president Thabo Mbeki also attended the dinner and stayed until the very end. He didn’t speak, although some of the organising support staff said they expected he might.

His spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, however, said Mbeki’s role at the celebrations would be limited to carrying and then handing over the centenary torch to Zuma.

Master of ceremonies Cyril Ramaphosa explained Mbeki’s attendance, the first at an ANC event since he was removed as president in 2007, as follows: “In the ANC the baton is handed from one generation to another, from one leader to another.”

By the time President Jacob Zuma concluded proceedings, more than half of the 1 500 guests had left but most ANC leaders and ministers and their support staff remained behind.

Zuma apologised for the bad planning. “Arrangement and timing missed us a little bit,” he said. He had to leave the dinner at midnight to light the centenary torch in a ceremony at the Waaihoek church, and he returned about an hour and a half later.

But Ramaphosa was unapologetic about the long dinner, saying the ANC’s centenary was unique and the party would take its time celebrating it.

Zuma’s speech, which in previous years had touched on the issues he would be addressing in the party’s January 8 statement today, was reduced to a mere vote of thanks.

It followed support messages by Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini and SACP general-secretary Blade Nzimande, who in previous years delivered their messages at the rally.

This year, however, the party decided that Zuma would not share the stage with anyone.

This was put down to time considerations, but there has been speculation that Zuma did not want to share the stage with suspended ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who might attempt to upstage or embarrass the president as had happened with the party’s manifesto launch in Rustenburg in February last year.

In his support message on that occasion Malema slammed the business interests of Zuma’s family members.

The party pulled out all stops for the celebrations, which were held in a huge marquee at the University of the Free State’s south campus just outside Bloemfontein.

Word of Mouth caterers prepared a menu that was distinctly South African, starting with an amuse-bouche, consisting of tiny portions of spicy mogodu, or tripe, with a side of corn bread.

The starter was a green salad with micro leaves and parmesan, while the main course consisted of phyllo baskets with oxtail stew and vegetables.

Dessert was a miniature chocolate potjie filled with “milk tart mousse” accompanied by koeksisters.

South African wines accompanied the food and other drinks were freely available, unlike some previous years when there was a cash bar. Those attending appeared to drink in moderation.

The tables were beautifully decorated with small centrepiece flower arrangements containing roses and proteas.

The names of sponsors, unlike in some years before, were not displayed prominently or printed in lists on the menu. Instead, on the back of the menu it merely said: “Proudly sponsored by MTN and Vodacom.”

After the dinner, guests went home to rest for a few hours before this morning’s church service at 8am.

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