Guest Column

#ANC54: Diary of a conference newbie

2017-12-22 10:49

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Dear diary

It’s the final day of the ANC’s national conference and by now you would think that I would be used to the fact that nothing here starts on time. Everything is delayed, except meal times.

There are four things that can be guaranteed at meal times: apart from it being like hostel food, there will always be a selection of funeral salads (beetroot and coleslaw). Breakfast will always involve potatoes. You are guaranteed to eat pap at some point during the day and the Halaal lines are always shorter.

Speaking of queues, there’s a lot of those. Before entering the Nasrec venue, it’s like waiting to enter an exam room. Instead of being checked for crib notes, you have to walk through a metal detector and have your bags and equipment scanned.

Before the journalists go to plenary where the delegates are, they gather us behind a gate. It’s like going to a club. The cool people get to go in first – in this case it’s the photographers and video teams. Then the bouncers, I mean marshals, let the rest of us through but they check tags to make sure you are eligible.

It’s not like you can enjoy the party once you are inside. When you start swinging side-to-side to the songs the crowds are singing, the other journalists look at you funny. We’re supposed to observe and remain objective. Sometimes I have to concentrate really hard not to sing along.

The marshals are everywhere, making sure we don’t step out of their line of sight or move beyond certain points without any supervision. It’s like having a chaperone, keeping us cordoned off in a section, making sure we aren’t up to no good by interacting with the delegates. Perhaps there’s a single message the ANC wants to push and they have too much to lose if one of the delegates should go rogue and speak to a journalist.

You can take pictures though. The delegates really put up a show, sometimes they leave their seats and come and dance near the cameras, where we are. Some of us scramble to take close-ups so we can document the scenes from the inside as accurately as possible, in limited time.

The ceilings have yellow and green fabric stretched across them – like a hall for a dance, but it’s not always a happy affair. Once we were led in and some delegates angrily demanded that we can’t sit with them. As the media we are used to not being welcome, it was not long before we had to leave again.

We walk together between venues, like school pupils. It’s like a bell goes off every time there’s an alert on the WhatsApp group every time there’s a schedule change.

Some of the journalists bring sleeping bags for make-shift beds for the long hours we have to work. There’s a lot of junk food to snack on and coffee runs, kind of like at varsity. The search for plug points is endless and when I get tired of one library, in this case a workspace, I move on to the next. 

Whenever there’s drama we have to wait around for our aunties (sources) to tell us what we missed. Like when you come back home after a semester. We wait what seems like hours for the parties involved to confirm.  

Of course, we had already broken the news, but this time we get to ask our questions to get the full story.

Sometimes I think I could just watch this stuff from a distance on TV, because it feels like I’ve lived through this before.

But I know millions of South Africans aren’t in this position, they’re relying on our reports. 

- Lameez Omarjee is a journalist at Fin24.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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