12 days with Zuma: Our stint as JZ groupies is over

2011-05-19 07:21

It had to end eventually. Three weeks on the trot charging around the republic chasing after the Commander in Chief with no care in the world was a great escape from everyday life.

No office, no paperwork, no meetings: just high-speed charging about; long periods of standing around waiting; mad dashes from town to town; crazed fans going wild from corner to corner of the country.

The realisation that Team City Press’s tenure as road warriors was about to come to an abrupt end hit us just after President Jacob Zuma had finished casting his vote at the Ntolwane school near his Nxamalala, Nkandla, home.

The big man had arrived as he had everywhere else during our stint dogging his heels: sleek black vehicles, sirens, blue lights and a small army of shooters and minders hurtling out of nowhere to screams of pleasure and anticipation from the gagging punters.

Grannies were ululating, girls giggling, grown men were chanting his name as the CiC walked into the school to place his X on the ballot paper for ward 14, presumably in support of ANC candidate Sibongiseni Bhengu.

From there it was the impromptu press conference – mikes, cameras, looming minders and recorders everywhere as the CiC laid down the 2011 election gospel according to St Jacob.

Then it was done. A quick “thank you for visiting my village” and he was off, IEC honcho Brigilia Bam in tow, to his nearby homestead for a cup of tea. We milled around, lost, no programme to follow, no next whistlestop to charge off to.

The cigarettes came out. Time to move across to Zululand and keep an eye on the poll there.

Then, out of the blue, word comes from one of the commander in chief’s minders: he’s going to do three quick stopovers at polling stations around Uthungulu, the district municipality that Nkandla falls under.

The depression and punctured feeling disappear. We sprint to the car and motor off in the direction of King Cetshwayo’s tomb, the first gig. We’re about 50km away when the call comes: gig cancelled, hit the Ntumeni tribal court polling station.

We turn around and hammer it. Halfway there and another call comes: gig cancelled, move to Eshowe town hall.

We scream into the town, desperate not to miss the absolutely bloody final gig of the 2011 Nxamalala tour.

The Commander in Chief arrives. The crowd of ANC supporters toyi-toying outside the polling station suddenly swells.

The IFP guys doing the same thing 20m away are suddenly drowned out as the “Zuma, Zuma’’ starts.

The big man greets Stan Larkan, the IFP’s would-be mayor and poses for a last photo call. Then he’s off – this time for real.

Team City Press puts away its toys, gathers up its proverbial tent and hits the road. It’s back to the mundane. The tour’s finally over. It’s been mad stuff.

We’ve spent day after day running on adrenaline and Camels, waking up in strange places and falling asleep in even weirder ones.

Truth is though, there’s nothing we’d rather have been doing: lurking on the fringes of – and occasionally getting stuck in the middle of – the biggest game into town.

And we even got paid for it.

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