12 days with Zuma: Relief in a bottle

2011-05-14 17:15

Team City Press is lurking with intent outside an upmarket guesthouse in Summerstrand in Port Elizabeth. It’s late Friday afternoon.

We’ve been hanging here for several hours since the commander-in-chief wrapped up his banging performance at the Dan Qeqe Stadium in the city’s Zwide township.

The commander-in-chief is inside having lunch with the who’s who of Nelson Mandela Bay money and politics.

We’re bored, starving, tired and nervous as hell. It’s our second week on the road with President Jacob Zuma and we’ve finally landed a one-on-one with the man.

We’ve fought our way out of the stadium ahead of his departure so we don’t miss the slot.

It’s a one-time gig: 25 minutes after he finishes his lunch and before he jets off to Jozi for a meeting with the bureaucrats and tenderpreneurs of tomorrow.

We’ve got reason to be nervous.

Zuma’s schedule is truly evil and if we lose focus he’ll be gone before we know it. It’s taken us two weeks to hustle the slot. The commander-in-chief doesn’t do a lot of interviews on the road. This is hen’s teeth stuff.

Plus the boss has been on my case since Monday, and there’s a bottle of something special involved if I come right.

Just to add to my sense of utter panic, I’ve been trying in vain to get a sit-down with Zuma since 2005 when I worked for that other Sunday paper.

Frankly put, I’m sh*tting myself and so is my partner in crime, the photographic genius popularly known as Khaya Ngwenya. We’re also both dying to take a leak.

We’ve been standing and sitting around for hours, chaining my Camel Lights and throwing litres of water down our necks. The pressure is building, literally and figuratively.

We can’t wander off for fear of missing the slot. We’re surrounded by cops, so simply whipping it out and spraying the nearest tree in typical Durbanite fashion is a big no-no.

If we try that here we’re gonna get locked up or moered, or both. But Ngwenya is not only a photographic giant. He’s a resourceful cat.

He opens the boot, whips out an empty half-litre Coke bottle and climbs into the back seat of our hired car.

I stand against the widow so the hefty boerseun from the Presidential Protection Unit who’s been giving us the evil eye can’t scope Ngwenya out through his black shades. Khaya does the business and hops out.

I grab a one litre Bonaqua empty – chosen for the significantly wider neck – and jump in. My brother in arms covers me. What a relief. A few minutes later, the commander-in-chief’s chief minder, Zizi Kodwa, calls us from across the road. We sprint inside. The security guys are having a laugh. The commander-in-chief’s waiting for us in a lounge.

We sit down and it’s game on. He’s a bit wary in the beginning. I ask the commander-in-chief something about singing and he throws back his head and bellows with laughter.

Khaya, Zizi and I join in. My fear’s suddenly gone – the man has this amazing ability to put you at ease. Then it’s all over. We tell Zuma we have a present for him: a selection of Khaya’s pictures of him on the road.

He’s genuinely stoked. Then we realise we’ve left them in the car. Khaya sprints off to get them as the Zuma heavies hustle him to the waiting car to take his next flight.

The commander-in-chief tells them to hold on, because he’s waiting for something. Khaya hustles back with the pictures, which Zizi gives to Zuma who’s already sitting in one of the security cars.

The man looks at them, gives us a quick thumbs up, and he’s gone.

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