Mangaung Mutters: Sick and twisted

2012-12-19 11:50

He’s recovered from a nasty case of heat stroke - but now Paddy Harper has an ailment of a different kind.

Day three of conference. It feels like day 300.

I can’t remember the time before Friday, when I arrived in Mangaung.

It feels like I was born last week and I’ve lived in a glass bubble ever since.

These are the first signs of what is known as conference syndrome (CS).

It’s a recurring condition.

It’s rare. Unless, of course, you’re ANC support staff, a voting ANC delegate or a political hack.

Then you’ve got it and you’ve got it bad.

It flares up every five years – something like malaria or glandular fever – when the ANC elects its new leadership.

There are other manifestations of CS. You start calling your work colleagues comrade.

You fall asleep with the strains of uZuma lo being sung by the voices in your head.

You develop curvature of the spine from lugging a backpack loaded with notebooks, laptops, emergency whiskey bottles and boxes of looted government-issue condoms.

As the days go on, you become something of a zombie. There are reasons for this.

The first is sleep deprivation. The conference works on Khongolose Time.

If nothing starts on time, nothing ends on time. Factor in post-work drinks to decompress, late-night interviews, and the mad traffic in and out of the conference venue, and there’s not much shut-eye to be had.

Then there’s the media frenzy. There are nearly a thousand hacks all trying to show they are cleverer than one another. It was bad enough in the past with newspaper deadlines.

Add the demands of online journalism (and several new layers of bosses) and you have the recipe for a nervous breakdown. Red Bull stops working.

The boozing doesn’t help, either.

The Progressive Business Forum (PBF) is the venue for midday drinking in a Gadaffiesque air-conditioned tent run by the ANC’s favourite former Nat, Comrade Renier Schoeman. Comrade Schoeman heads the PBF.

He raises lots of cash for his comrades. Comrade Schoeman and his former maatjies in the NP tried to send me to the army in the 1980s to kill ANC members.

I wasn’t keen. I dodged the draft. Didn’t kill anybody. I haven’t forgotten, though, or forgiven.

There are no student bars open on campus, unlike at Turfloop.

This doesn’t slow down the comrades – or the media.

When the commander in chief’s victory celebration kicked off on Monday, a single of Johnnie Walker Platinum in a Styrofoam cup went for R30 a pop.

The pub?

A gazebo outside the main gate.

Then comes the information deprivation. When you’re at conference, nothing else exists.

You eat, sleep and (hopefully) shag conference, conference and more conference.

This isn’t my first dose of CS.

I was first infected at the Durban conference when I was ANC support staff.

It laid me flat again at Mafikeng five years later.

There was no Stellenbosch flare-up for Harper. I was chained to a desk news editing.

Polokwane brought a new KwaZulu-Natal strain of CS, which is raging like dengue fever here in Mangaung.

A normal person would definitely jump the wall and never come back. Me, I never claimed to be normal.

I’m already looking forward to my next five-year bout before this one has even cleared up.

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