Two things were on the lips of ANC bigwigs who gathered at the Sandton Convention Centre last night for the party’s gala birthday dinner.
One was what the year ahead will hold for the party set to elect a new leader. The other was whether the heavy rain in Gauteng would sabotage the party’s traditional January 8 rally at Orlando Stadium today.
Attendees were more easily drawn on the second topic than the first.
Asked whether she thought 2017 would be an interesting year, ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, wearing a sleeveless, formal gown, defiantly said:
“It will be a good year. It will be a very good year.”
Asked whether the rain was caused by a third force, State Security Minister David Mahlobo joked: “I don’t know, but I wasn’t trained to handle rain.”
More seriously, he said he’d heard about accidents by service vehicles outside the stadium and was concerned the roads might be slippery or waterlogged today.
After the gala dinner, Mahlobo had to return to the stadium to ensure security measures were in place.
He joked that he could, at any time, put a signal jammer inside to block cellphone signals like he did in 2015 during the State of the Nation Address in the National Assembly.
Mahlobo shared a table, decked out in ANC colours like all the other tables, with deputy justice minister John Jeffery and deputy cooperative governance minister Andries Nel.
Gauteng chief whip Brian Hlongwa was more seriously concerned about the rain, saying the inaccessibility of some roads might mean not all buses would be able to pick up their passengers.
“In theory, the stadium is already full and the buses have been booked,” he said.
Opening the dinner, which started almost two hours late owing to guests’ slow arrival, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said: “Tomorrow, rain or no rain, we are going to fill up Orlando Stadium.”
Before the event, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom arrived with his wife, Trish, both in high spirits about the new year.
They posed in front of a big banner of former ANC president OR Tambo, who would have turned 100 years old this year.
Journalists jokingly asked if he had any friends left after proposing a motion in a national executive committee (NEC) meeting last year that Zuma should step down. Hanekom, however, just laughed it off.
Other guests included deputy agriculture minister Bheki Cele who was seen talking to deputy land reform minister Mcebisi Skwatsha and his wife, Sapho.
Seated at the about 150 tables in the hall were international guests from India, as well as from fraternal parties in neighbouring countries.
While some women were dressed in low-key evening dresses and glitter, many chose to arrive in outfits in ANC colours.
Earlier, Soweto’s historic Vilakazi Street was where ordinary and some not-so-ordinary ANC members came out to play ahead of the party’s 105th anniversary rally.
Some party members who are usual fixtures at the celebrations declared that they’d rather stay at home because they are disillusioned with the organisation, but many did come out to have a drink in style – and in party colours.
Some attempted to play down the boozing that accompanies the ANC’s traditionally first major get-together of the year because they felt this was not the sort of image the party should be projecting – especially not after losing both the Johannesburg and Tshwane metros in last year’s local government elections.
Others, however, were hanging out in the white marquees put up by Sakhumzi Restaurant.
Those willing to cough up R20 000 could buy themselves and their pals or romantic playmates two bottles each of Hennessy cognac, Dom Pérignon Champagne, Belvedere vodka and Hendrick’s gin, and four bottles of either Moët et Chandon or Veuve Clicquot Champagne.
There were also cheaper packages – right down to a mere R6 000.
Down the road, the Kwa Lichaba shisa nyama had a lot more space on offer, but business was slow on Friday night with most people apparently not willing to cough up the cover charge, which at R50 was a bargain considering the R100-plus entrance fees charged by places like Cubana at January 8 pre-parties in previous years.
Some took to drinking booze from cooler boxes in the boots of their BMWs, parked by the fence of the establishment. “We’re not paying that cover charge,” the revellers complained.
On a corner opposite the shisa nyama, Mlungisi Mbhele, dressed in a T-shirt bearing the words “Thank you” beneath President Jacob Zuma’s face, had his own braai drum with a few large pieces of delicious-smelling boerewors for hot dogs – selling at R25 a piece, as well as some chicken, which started at R35 for a quarter bird.
The T-shirt was one of those distributed by activists from Mpumalanga who swept Soweto and surrounds at the weekend with 30 double-cab bakkies and a massive campaign truck left over from last year’s elections.
A local branch secretary, who only gave his name as Sicelo, said the ANC “never meant to be a drinking party”, but since “the ANC is the longest surviving liberation movement [on the continent], why can’t we come out and celebrate?”