State of the party nation

2012-02-09 12:18

Many a journalist and politician is secretly grateful for President Jacob Zuma’s decision to move his state of the nation address (Sona) to an evening slot.

This will be the third year that the president’s face graces prime-time television screens countrywide on a Thursday night.
There is the procession, the pomp, the ceremony and the three presidential wives. Then he starts with his speech at 7pm sharp.

Many journalists and some politicians will be spending most of this morning recovering from last night, before they venture into the parliamentary precinct – or in the case of politicians, start dressing up – to report and take part in the proceedings of the day.

Traditionally, for journalists, there are two big events the night before the opening: the 6pm to 8pm pre-Sona cocktails by the British High Commission, a most sought-after invitation, and the Government Communications and Information Service’s (GCIS) do, which can be more correctly described as a p*ss-up with journalists and spokespeople.

Then the whole party moves to Cubana in Green Point where the GCIS party mingles with young-spirited politicians, hangers-on and punters to loud music, mojitos and whisky.

Reliable red-eyed sources reported over breakfast this morning that last night’s party went on till 4am.

To add to the bashes, this year there was also the launch of the ANC’s centenary book at the Taj hotel in the Cape Town CBD, but sadly we couldn’t fit it into our schedule.

The British High Commissioner’s abode is in the lush Cape Town suburb of Bishopscourt, and it takes a considerable braving of pre-Sona traffic jams to get there. (Many CBD roads are closed the night before for dry runs of the procession.)

If you’re late due to the traffic, the High Commissioner Nicola Brewer herself will greet you and Dali and Rachel Tambo, who entered just behind you, just before she exits onto the steps of the large and rather English house to make her speech.

This year the themes were the diamond jubilee of the Queen (Brewer broached this subject with much seriousness and a straight face, and we drank a toast to the monarch), the 200th birth of Charles Dickens, celebrated yesterday (Brewer, tongue-in-cheek, noted two of his works as describing the zeitgeist: Great Expectations and Hard Times) and enterpreneurship ventures between South Africa and the UK.

It seems like the crowd of high-fliers crammed into the marquees on the lawn of the residence at sunset was bigger than previous years. There were ambassadors, MPs from all parties, ministers, businesspeople, academics, journalists and celebrities.

Science and Technology Deputy Minister Derek Hanekom and Planning Minister Trevor Manuel were among those mingling in the tent. They refused to give details about the disciplinary case of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema (but they were seen in debate with some journos about the Protection of State Information Bill).
Manuel was on the appeal committee that referred the case back to the party’s disciplinary committee, which Hanekom heads.

UCT law professor Pierre de Vos, however, gave his ten cents’ worth by telling us over a creamy chocolate brownie mini-dessert that the two-week extension of Malema’s suspension wasn’t strictly according to legal principles.

We were too late to hear the speeches at the GCIS party, or to catch a glimpse of its big boss, Jimmy Manyi.

See, Manyi wears a business hat too, which means he has to juggle the GCIS crowd with those get-togethers of the Mining Indaba and the Black Management Forum.

Usually the GCIS functions are hosted by media houses like Primedia or Media24, but Primedia pulled out at the last minute this year due to costs. This meant the party was hastily moved to the BMW Pavilion at the Waterfront, and although the drinks flowed, the tummies which held the liquor were slightly emptier than previous years.

So around 10pm this party relocated to Cubana, but some of the senior journalists went to restaurants instead to fill the empty tummies. Others, like this one, retired to bed. When it comes to pre-Sona hangovers, prevention is better than cure.

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