Bed politics in Bloemfontein

2012-01-10 09:55

Sleep wasn’t high on the agenda for the tens of thousands of faithful who went to Bloemfontein (or Mangaung, as the ANC had billed it) to celebrate the ANC’s 100th birthday on January 8.

Despite that, a decent pillow to lay your head on in between the parties became some of the most sought-after commodities over the weekend, almost more precious than an air-conditioned car in the Free State summer heat.

Many decided to go to the festivities on a whim as the call of the party spirit became too strong to resist. As thousands of these flocked into the already packed City of Roses, many found themselves bedless in Bloemfontein.

Some slept in cars and buses, and there was talk of tents being put up for accommodation, while others engaged in a good deal of bed-trading, negotiations and favours for a place to sleep.

But as an ANC leader remarked last week, this was a “pilgrimage” and people would be willing to sacrifice, even if it meant sleeping rough.

Some people chose to sacrifice in monetary terms, as certain hotels and guest houses in true capitalist fashion considered this oversupply of demand as a good time to double, triple and quadruple their prices.

One ANC supporter said they paid R20 000 per night for a “modest” five-bedroomed house on the outskirts of town, while a premier with his entourage paid R50 000 per night for a house.

In the exclusive Woodlands Hills Wildlife Estate just outside town, where mostly heads of state and foreign dignitaries stayed, houses went for up to R60 000 per night. A government official involved in securing the estate said about three weeks ago there were concerns that some white residents would be racist, but in the end there were no problems.

But despite the greed, there was also kindness. Some private residents opened their hearts and their doors to those stranded – sometimes even to strangers as happened when three City Press reporters found themselves stranded without rooms.

The ANC in a genius bit of forward planning booked out the Southern Sun for its officials and leaders, guaranteeing them rooms, but also making it a great place for journalists to hang out for networking and interviews.

SABC journalists were said to have been staying in the Protea hotel, while City Lodge was another of the more popular hotels.

But not everyone got prime accommodation. Some didn’t like their hotel rooms and had to scramble at the last minute to get new ones. Others simply neglected to book beforehand.

Parliament was one of the employers which apparently left its booking too late. This meant MPs had to stay in nearby places like Thaba Nchu, 76km outside Bloemfontein.

One MP said a deputy minister who had an extra room in Bloemfontein for support staff gave him the room as it wasn’t being used. “It was the first time ever that I squatted in a room like that,” he said.

There were also those “pantypreneurs” who considered the bash and the lack of beds which people were willing to share, as a good opportunity for “playing away”. In fact, many ANC supporters came to Bloemfontein only for this part of the party.

Bed-trading came to a head on Sunday night following the party’s rally that afternoon, which marked the high point in the programme.

Some revellers decided to drive back home the same evening, despite the cloudburst that followed the day’s events, while others decided to stay one more night because they were enjoying it all too much.

This meant many beds became available on short notice, but were booked out moments later.

A party-goer who arrived in town around lunch time on Sunday spent most of his afternoon and evening in a restaurant, phoning around for rooms.

One offer – a three-bedroom house at R4 500 per night – he rejected because it was overpriced, but eventually he managed to get a hotel room. He continued drinking in the restaurant until an hour or so after midnight. When he called to confirm the room, the hotel was already in the process of giving the room to a party-goer which arrived in the flesh to look (and pay) for a place to sleep.

After being told by a number of guest houses and hotel owners that their rooms had been taken in the afternoon, he eventually managed to get a bed in a hotel in the less touristy part of town, and he could at last retire from his drinking.

The weekend accommodation situation was a taster of what could come in December, when the ANC is set to hold its elective conference in the same town.

You can bet your feather pillow that that journalists and ANC members will be booking their (overpriced) rooms for the conference first thing when they get home this week.

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