A tale of two parties

2012-12-23 10:00

New data this week showed that SA’s Gini coefficient, the measure of inequality, is deepening. Nowhere was this more in evidence than at the ANC’s Mangaung conference, which was a tale of two very different worlds colliding in one place. The City Press team examines the two faces of the governing party

The cars

It had been a sweltering week and it was a long walk to the ANC plenary tent at the sports fields of the University of the Free State.

That walk revealed a party of two sets of delegates: the strollers and the drivers.

The strollers were on foot, conference backpacks heavily weighed down with policy documents, plotting how to deal with South Africa’s wealth gap.

The policy is a work in progress.

Meanwhile, the driving delegates put foot to the pedal and sped past the walkers.

The driving delegates favoured gleaming dark sedans with tinted windows.

Apart from the usual Beemers, Land Rovers, Audis and Mercs that carried ministers, premiers and MECs, ANC guests and delegates cruised the streets of Mangaung in Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Porsches.

Free State Premier Ace Magashule’s Merc S600 V12 was the most expensive vehicle driven by any of the politicians at the ­conference.

President Jacob Zuma’s ­“humble” BMW X5 costs just ­under R900 000, without extra ­protection.

The contrast was stark, especially when the shining sedans lined up against the worker delegates’ buses that were emblazoned with images of Zuma, promising a better life.

The meals

At lunch, the divisions were clear once more.

The rank and file queued in lines that snaked to fetch a simple served lunch.

Not a stone’s throw away was the dining room of the Progressive Business Forum.

The décor was Boeroque, with elevated centrepieces and long orchids holding their own against the heat.

Food was served in courses, waitrons checked if you had a serviette.

You could mingle with the who’s who: Zuma’s besty, Vivian Reddy, sat with Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi.

The party’s economics czar, Enoch Godongwana, was lunching with the brainy Joel Netshitenzhe.

Ordinary delegates had vouchers to redeem in the food tents.

On Monday, the lunch for ordinary delegates consisted of fish, spinach and either rice, bread or potatoes for starch.

Mzukona Bomela (41) from the Tobile Bam branch in Eastern Cape said the food was tasteless.

But he said he was determined to finish, since if he didn’t take what was on offer, he would have to organise and pay for his own grub.

The advent of the forum made more stark the divisions of the ANC into those with money and those without.

The brainchild of former National Party turned ANC members Renier Schoeman and Darryl Swanepoel, the forum has commodified the time and expertise of ANC members, and sells it to those who can afford – and who ­apparently need – such commodities.

You can buy breakfasts, lunches and dinners with Cabinet ministers and ANC leaders.

For more money, at the conference you could buy space in the platinum lounge, where networking was helped along with the best single malts, sipped while sitting on white squishy leather seats that you simply sank into.

When delegates from the other side of the socioeconomic divide wanted a break, they just took off their shoes and sat on the grass.

The digs

At the end of a long day of politicking, delegates and guests with deep pockets escaped Bloemfontein’s suddenly crammed, noisy city centre for the luxurious silence of the leafy suburbs.

Owners with homes in posh neighbourhoods like the Woodlands Wildlife Estate and Universitas cashed in.

One rental agent told City Press that delegates with money to spare preferred to stay outside the city.

The agent, who asked to remain anonymous, said her clients had “a list of requirements”, including air conditioning, good security systems and a swimming pool.

The sizeable rentals, some costing as much as R35 000 per day, ­included only the houses and cleaning services; everything else was billed separately.

The agent explained: “We are stocking the fridge with bottled water, ice and energy drinks, and snacks are being ordered.

“We provide that and then claim separately.”

All such rentals had to be paid upfront.

For the guests and delegates on top of the political heap, the Free State government guesthouse on the grounds of Free State House – Premier Ace Magashule’s official residence – would have been a popular choice.

The guesthouse was upgraded last December as part of a multimillion-rand renovation ahead of the ANC’s centenary celebrations, which were held in January.

Across town, nearly 2 500 more workaday delegates stayed on the University of the Free State’s ­campus.

The university was tight-lipped on details of the cost.

In a brief statement, it said: “Several of our residences have been rented to accommodate 2 377 ­delegates from four provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga).”

Hostel rooms at the university are small, neat and simple. Most contain just a single bed, a table, a chair and cupboards.

Basic it may have been, but a good night’s sleep in a student room was far better than the situation that awaited some delegates when they arrived in Mangaung late on Saturday.

Wire service NewsFire reported on Sunday that scores of delegates had slept on the city’s streets or the buses that had brought them to Bloemfontein.

NewsFire saw delegates from Gauteng, Limpopo, Western Cape, Northern Cape and North West without accommodation on Saturday night and counted more than 20 buses of delegates camping on the street.

The parties

As the lyrics of Rose Royce’s 1976 hit tell us, you might not get rich at a car wash, but you’re sure to meet some interesting people.

That was definitely the case at Mahungra, Bloemfontein’s famous car wash that is also one of the city’s hottest party spots.

A court interdict scuppered owner Power Tshabalala’s plans to host a different party every night during the Mangaung conference, but the legal eagles didn’t say anything about people not being allowed to hang out at Mahungra.

And hang out they did.

On a warm Monday night, as the public holiday wound down and lightning flickered overhead, the place was absolutely packed.

The crowd numbered in the thousands.

Car boots became makeshift bars and camping chairs abounded for those who didn’t feel like standing while they grooved.

The expensive cars and ­motorbikes parked outside Mahungra suggested guests had plenty of cash to splash, but they chose to come here instead of forking out R200 for cover charges at inner-city nightclubs.

Nightspots Cappello, Coobah and Ekhayeni favoured a smart-casual dress code.

Cappello’s manager, Zandile Magadla, said before the conference had even started that the venue was looking at having 12 bouncers on duty every night and other staff would also be on alert for any security issues.

VIP lounges at both Cappello and Cubaña were also fully booked during the day and at night.

Show us the money

Fancy cars and designer clothes have always been part of an ANC conference, but this year’s conference was a way for some to show off the wealth they’ve accumulated since Polokwane.

“Tjo, there’s a lot of fancy cars here, more than in Polokwane,” said a banking official who was manning a stand in the Progressive Business Forum lounge.

Getting a vehicle on to campus was almost impossible, but those with million-rand cars took the opportunity to suffer through the screening process so they could show off their latest acquisitions.

Delegates who were seen at Polokwane driving entry-level Mercedes C180s now proudly sported the exclusive ML63 AMG.

The cheap, ill-fitting T-shirts that delegates used to wear at Polokwane made way for bespoke linen shirts featuring ANC logos – although some insisted on still wearing their Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, particularly those where the logo of the jockey on the horse is almost as big as the shirt itself.

How did some delegates manage to get so rich in only five years?

While the rich and powerful at Polokwane were mostly BEE moguls, ordinary delegates struggled to make ends meet.

This time around, many delegates had upgraded their jobs.

Shaka Radebe from the Vaal in Gauteng is now a member of the mayoral council for Sedibeng. In 2007, he was a businessman who focused on project management.

“I still run my business on the side,” he told City Press.

Mluleki Mgunundu from the Eastern Cape’s Alfred Nzo region had a job as a clerk in the regional health department when he voted for Zuma in Polokwane.

Today he is a supervisor in the department.

“But I got my job through my qualifications,” he said.

North West delegate Maine Mokane worked as the public liason officer in the office of the ­provincial MEC, but now he is a member of Parliament.

‘Things have changed for the better for most of us. Now more than 10% of public representatives are young people,” he said proudly.

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