The politics of koeksisters

2012-03-12 09:02

The face of the DA may be changing, but one of the constants at its conferences is koeksisters.

At least this goes for the party’s Gauteng biennial elective conference, which on Saturday again didn’t disappoint.

This one was held at the Heartfelt Arena in Pretoria, a small trek from the Voortrekker Monument (incidentally also the place where Cope had its most recent, but aborted, attempt at a conference at the end of 2010), and the caterers were, by the sound of it, from local Afrikaner stock.

Party leader Helen Zille, in a brief conversation next to the koeksister platter in the VIP dining area, confided in City Press that the party’s catering didn’t amount to much before the Democratic Party merged with the New National Party in 2000 (when it became the Democratic Alliance).

“They really lifted our catering. Before, the DP used to eat sandwiches with limp lettuce and maybe some boiled egg hanging out.

“Now the people complain if there’s no koeksisters at a conference,” she said.

At this weekend’s conference it was only the VIPs (thankfully including journalists) that benefited from the koeksisters. At the last one, in the Krugersdorp Town Hall, there were koeksisters for everyone.

But budgets only stretch so far, and at this conference, like at the ones before, delegates got a brown bag for lunch containing a sandwich and a juice.

Such is life when you’re a party with your hands not quite on the money or power.

The DA, however, wants this to change. It wants to win Gauteng in the next elections in 2014, either by coalition or outright, and it wants to up its 24% support nationally to 30% of the vote. By 2019 it wants to run the country.

Zille, when answering questions from journalists in a backstage room after her speech, admitted the party wasn’t quite sure yet how it would work the figures to win Gauteng. “Two years is a short time in politics, but it’s also a long time. Anything can happen in two years.”

It would entail part strategy, and part a crossing of fingers.

But if elections could be won on enthusiasm alone, the DA has a good chance.

There were about 1 000 delegates (one organiser admitted the turnout surprised even him), more than half of them black.

Whereas before, the DA’s inclusion of black delegates and representatives appeared slightly forced, even awkward, it’s becoming less and less so.

The same struggle songs that are sung at ANC events, are now being sung by the DA, customised of course.

Zille walked – or rather, danced – to the stage, accompanied by a bunch of delegates, to the sounds of kwaito singer Professor Lento (featuring Speedy).

It’s a song about the aspirations of people, and wouldn’t have been out of place at an ANC rally, except the ANC would have featured Professor live.

While she is tolerant of kwaito and koeksisters, Zille has been less so of the remaining ex-National Party public representatives. Fewer and fewer of them are returning to Parliament, and a younger, more multiracial guard is taking the front seats.

But like the koeksisters, a sheep (with an aptly symbolic mixture of black and white fleece, all on one animal) wearing a DA T-shirt tied to a pole at the entrance of the hall was a reminder of the ghost of the NP in the DA.

It is understood, from the excited young activists looking after it, that the sheep was a “fundraiser”.

It appeared to have been the prize in a raffle, and was presumably donated by a farmer sympathetic or involved in the party.

Somehow it’s difficult to imagine sheep at an ANC conference, for instance, or even an IFP one, but that’s the fun part of a multiparty democracy when you’re a journalist. Each party’s conference has its own eccentricities.

Always interesting, and more so when you have a sweet tooth and are served koeksisters for pudding.

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