How the party’s party rocked like it was Baba’s birthday

2015-01-11 10:35
President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa wave to the crowd in the Cape Town stadium. (Jennifer Bruce, AFP)

President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa wave to the crowd in the Cape Town stadium. (Jennifer Bruce, AFP)

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ANC shakes up Cape Town with 103rd birthday bash

2015-01-10 19:11

70 000 ANC supporters flocked to Cape Town Stadium on Saturday to celebrate the 103rd birthday of the African National Congress. Watch for an overview of what went down.WATCH

Cape Town - It was an ideal day for the beach, a picnic, or just collapsing under a shady tree with a book. Anything, really, but a political rally. Blame the weather. The perfect summer conditions – windless, temperatures in the high 20s – meant Cape Town Stadium was like a giant pizza oven, stiflingly hot and not without traces of big cheese.

The crowds were game, though, and began arriving for the ruling party’s 103rd anniversary celebrations from about 07:00. And, as ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe had boasted earlier in the week, they had intended to paint the Mother City yellow.

The T-shirts were everywhere. At Cape Town station, they poured out of the trains and on to the Fan Walk towards the stadium. From tens of thousands of proud chests and sometimes sagging boeps, President Jacob Zuma’s face beamed out to the world his party wanted to wrest from Democratic Alliance control.

He was everywhere, and you could be forgiven for thinking it was Baba’s birthday. Strange, though, that Mantashe – or Gweezy, as he’s known these days – chose not to wear yellow, but rather a white short-sleeved shirt.

Speaking of which, some of the merchandise in the stalls that lined the Fan Walk and the concourse outside the stadium was of the oddish sort, too. What is it with the almost child-like conviction that anything in ANC colours or festooned with party logos will fly off the shelves? Umkhonto we Sizwe veterans kiddie pyjamas, militant Panama hats, and most bizarrely, a priest’s surplice disguised as an ANC flag?

Further crimes against taste included those leather jackets the party commissioned some years back. That yellow and green piping on shiny black, hardly subtle, had a certain eye-gouging nattiness – but who’d wear such a thing in this weather?

Inside the stadium, proceedings ran late. Blame the troops of minstrels who took forever to find their seats. A grand entrance is one thing, but all that stop-start marching? No-one seemed to mind, though. And it was good to see large sections of the crowd wearing something other than yellow. Like shiny pink and mauve with matching umbrellas and make-up.

The dignitaries turned up while the klopse were still at it. It was a bit Hollywood-ish. They’d emerge onto the field from a tunnel, wave to the crowds and then make their way to the main stage at the western end of the stadium.

Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, sporting a bright green dress – no yellow paint for her, then – and her bravest gorgon wig, did look rather radiant. She came close to outglitzing the minstrels but was immediately followed by ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, who ambled on to the pitch like an orc. That was it, then, for glamour.

Rock star

Zuma’s entrance was rock star stuff. He did a lap of honour, waving to the crowd, before he took his place on the main stage. The moment, though, that he emerged from the tunnel he was surrounded by elderly men and women in camouflage who held hands and, like children at nursery school, formed a skipping cordon around the president to protect him from photographers.

Then came the highlight of programme director Baleka Mbete’s day – the chance to address the audience. She is the party’s national chair and, more controversially, the Speaker of Parliament, and she was going to make the most of this. Anyone who’s ever seen her in action in the National Assembly will tell you that she is quite taken with the sound of her own voice. She can listen to it at great length – and, consequently, so did we all.

There came, for example, the singing of the national anthem. It was, she said, not just the national anthem but “the national anthem of the African National Congress and of the country which is a country led by the African National Congress.”

The singing had hardly died down when she added, “South Africa, our land! All of it! Our land! Every bit of it.” This presumably was directed at the more whitish Peninsula suburbs.

Marius Fransman, the leader of the ANC in the Western Cape, was next. He seemed rather surprised that he had an audience at all. “Look at you,” he said. “You decided to come!” Emboldened by their presence, Fransman spoke earnestly about ridding the province of its “draconian government”. No surprises there, then.

He was followed by speakers from the party’s youth league, its women’s league, its veterans’ league, the SA National Civic Organisation, trade union federation Cosatu and the SA Communist Party.

Mbete warned them that they had no more than three minutes each. They ignored her – this wasn’t Parliament – and tub-thumped away, railing on about the patriarchy, Helen Zille, colonisers, labour brokers and diverse other social problems. It’s not known whether this was accidental or not, but their microphones mysteriously died about the four-minute mark and they’d be left ranting away in silence. Many considered it quite amusing.

The curtain raisers dispensed with, it was time for the long-winded Mbete once more. “It is important for us,” she began, apropos of what I cannot say, “as we are sitting here that there are many of us here, and that we have checked – in the last half an hour we have checked – there are 70 000 of you here today. That includes all the people who are outside the stadium. But we’ve now come to the moment, which is the main moment of the day, and I realise that many of you are moving because you are being chased by the sun, or you have to go and relieve yourselves. . .”

This, to cut it short, was an appeal to sit still while Zuma delivered a speech rehashed from the Freedom Charter. It was a good moment to get out of there.

Behind the grandstands, out of the sun, the crowds milled about, ignoring the president, and waited for Oskido, Arthur, Chommie and the various DJs that would finally get this party moving.


Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma  |  cape town  |  politics

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