Marianne Thamm

The XX Factor

2007-05-10 08:56

Marianne Thamm

Look, the signs were there long before the two-day DA Federal Congress cranked to life at Gallahger Estate in Midrand this past weekend.

From the location of the "Helen Zille table" almost in the centre of the link area of the main exhibition hall, to the number of posters, pamphlets, license disc holders, rosettes, bookmarks, trumpeting vuvzelas and toyi-toying nodes of Zille supporters, it was clear she was going to win.

This visible support was of course later borne out in the election result.

In the end it was a "Zille-nami", as one political correspondent termed it, with the mayor of Cape Town taking a whopping 73% of the vote to become the new DA leader.

So with this in mind you'd think that someone in charge would pay particular attention to the selection of the "rousing" opening song at this hugely significant congress attended by around 1145 delegates, 150 observers, VIP guests and members of the local and international press.

Dancing to a different beat

But many eyes rolled and jaws dropped when after a flash of lights, a drum roll and smoke hissing onto the stage, the first verse of the opening song - sung by a crooner who looked a bit like a cross between Lionel Richie and Whitney Houston - rang out over the cavernous venue; "If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life/never make a pretty woman your wife/ so from my personal point of view/get an ugly girl to marry you".

The selection of Jimmy Soul's hoary 1963 hit really points to a spectacular lack of judgment, an unthinking naivety so astounding one can only hope that the blatantly offensive song - a relic from some forgotten era - was chosen for its supposedly snappy beat and toe-tapping infectiousness (like some stubborn aural virus, the tune lingers about for days).

I am certain that many of the delegates brought to their feet by the first catchy thumps soon found themselves embarrassed at waving flags to the lyrics - "but if you make an ugly woman your wife/you'll be happy for the rest of your life/an ugly woman cooks your meals on time/and she'll always give you peace of mind".

"The DA needs a new DJ!" roared the inimitable Rhoda Kadalie.

If You Wanna Be Happy was followed by a sort of bargain-basement song and dance routine of Elton John and Tim Rice's The Circle of Life from the Lion King (soon to be opening as a professionally-staged musical in Jo'burg).

Most disconcerting was that one of the main dancers, wearing a crown of colourful plumage, looked like convicted baby killer, Dina Rodrigues out on a weekend pass before sentencing.

Puzzling also was the incongruous slide show on the large screens that flanked the stage.

It's a jungle out there

Between bushveld scenes of female lions roaring, traditional homesteads, licks of fire and beadwork, the face of the Richie/Huston person appeared with the enigmatic caption "call me" below.

At least, at the end of the Lion King song - as those of us with small children and who have been subjected to countless reruns of the movie will know - the feline regent held up to be greeted by the great herds below, was a little girl dancer. A sign of things to come we wondered?

But while the DA has always been a bit of a boy's club (actually the whole country is still bit of a boys club), women have risen through its ranks, so much so that a woman now heads the party.

So perhaps the juxtaposition of Soul's song and the Lion King bit was a sort of subliminal playing out of the " traditional" making way for the "contemporary".

Zille herself said she hoped that her X chromosome had nothing to do with her election as she would find that "insulting".

Sensitivity training

While she will no doubt usher in a new era in South African politics, she will also, just by virtue of being a woman, hopefully sensitise people to think about the things they say and how this might heard by others.

"We must begin to listen to ourselves through the ears of others," Zille told a press conference after her election.

Daars hy!

But apart from the artless entertainment, the rest of the conference - although there was zip, zero, nada debate as some 30 resolutions were voted on - was impressively well organised.

Things got off to an early start on both chilly mornings and more or less stuck to schedule. The press was well catered for and everyone managed to get meat and three veg at lunchtime and plenty of tea and coffee in between. Voting for the new leader went off without incident

Surprising also, to an outsider like myself, was to see just how diverse the DA's membership is. If you stood at the front of the hall and looked back over the sea of over a thousand faces, you truly did encounter a rainbow spread of South Africans.

Send your comments to Marianne.

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