Regal politics of partying

2011-12-10 18:48

It’s hard to imagine politics without the potables.

At the ANC’s last big meeting, its national general council in Durban last year, Chivas Regal shone majestically.

Recognising the (political) elite as a thirsty market, apparently drenched at this stage by Johnnie Walker Blue, the Scotch-makers gave away free tots in the bar at the Hilton, across the road from the ANC’s meeting. It was a great success and by the end of the week ministers and young leaders alike had made a turn at that bar.

Alcohol – anything from the classy red wine favoured by Mbeki-ites to the swanky Moët and Chandon consumed at the parties of suspended ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and his ilk – often lubricates the more informal party gatherings.

The affinity between politicians and alcohol isn’t new. Old, battle-hardened hacks who worked in Parliament before 1994 recall how a few shots helped them make their deadlines as the stuff flowed freely among journalists and MPs alike – who were mostly male at the time. There were even bars on the precinct. Many a scoop was born here. One former minister is still known to phone journalists when he’s had a drink or two.

These bars have now been closed, and the drinking happens off the premises at private gatherings or bars like Green Point’s Cubana.

Political reporters could tell tales of leaders who smell of freshly drunk alcohol at morning press conferences, of how they had seen some ministers motherless from exhaustion and drink at late-night celebrations of, say, the ANC’s January 8th birthday – or DA politicians pontificating about saving the world after many a glass.

Alcohol has also delivered its share of embarrassment and scandal. ANC party spokesperson Jackson Mthembu was nabbed for drunk driving in Cape Town’s rush hour when he drove, illegally, in the bus lane. Deputy Minister of Economic Development Enoch Godongwana, was convicted of drunk driving way back in 2002 when he was still an Eastern Cape MEC, while MP Cedric Frolick was accused of drunk driving in 2007, but the docket was apparently misplaced and no conviction was reported.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini now wants to reverse this trend of drinking in government by calling for dry Christmas parties. Public servants might grudgingly be forced to oblige, but it remains to be seen if a move like this could put the brakes on the long and not-so-proud tradition of politicians behaving badly by boozing.

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