Ferial Haffajee

'Us and them' at ANC conference

2012-12-19 14:52

Feria Haffajee

It has been a sweltering week and it is a long walk to the ANC plenary tent at the sports fields of the University of the Free State.

It reveals a party of two sets of delegates: the walkers and the drivers. The walkers foot it, conference back-packs weighed down with policy documents plotting how to deal with South Africa’s wealth gap.

The policy is a work in progress. Meanwhile, the delegates who are drivers put foot to the pedal and speed past the walkers. The cars at the conference are breathtaking.

The driving delegates favour gleaming dark sedans with tinted windows. The brands in vogue appear to be Land Rover, Porsche and BMW.

When the plenary sessions end, the roads are jam-packed with the bling wheels. The cars usually belong to Cabinet ministers, “deployed cadres” like directors-general or executives in parastatals and the private sector.

The contrast is stark, especially when the shining sedans line up against the worker delegates’ buses emblazoned with images of President Jacob Zuma and promising a better life.

At lunch, the comparisons are stark again. The rank and file queue in lines that snake to fetch a simple served lunch.

Not a stone’s throw away is the dining room of the Progressive Business Forum. It’s baroque, with elevated centrepieces and long orchids holding their own against the heat. Food is served in courses, waitrons check if you have a serviette.

You can mingle with the who’s who: I spotted President Jacob Zuma’s besty, Vivian Reddy, sitting with Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi. The party’s economic czar, Enoch Godongwana, lunched with the brainy Joel Netshitenzhe.

Education director-general Bobby Soobrayan was there too, along with a range of other people I recognised from the socials pages.

The advent of the forum has made more stark the divisions of the ANC into those with money and those without.

The brainchild of former National Party turned ANC members Renier Schoeman and Darryl Swanepoel, the forum has commodified the time and expertise of ANC members and sells it to those with money. You can buy breakfasts, lunches and dinners with Cabinet ministers and ANC leaders.

For more money, you can buy space in the platinum lounge where networking is helped along with the best single malts and white squishy leather seats you simply sink into.

I stood and gawped from the outside as a pretty hostess manned an entrance policy that was, she said, only for a handful of exclusive delegates. When other delegates wanted a break, I saw them take off their shoes and sit on the grass.

ANC conferences haven’t always been so “us and them”. I remember a time when delegates all ate together, walked together and stayed together.

Now, high-end digs go for R35 000 a day to retire to the sanctuary of Woodlands Estate and play a round of golf after your round of electioneering.

Newsfire, the news agency of the Daily Maverick, reported some delegates had stayed in buses, others on single mattresses in student dorms.

I saw a few people sprawled exhausted on pavements outside the university entrance, clearly about to sleep the night.




24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.