Mangaung: about to begin

2012-12-16 08:14

All us journos are sitting on the grass in the Bloemfontein sunshine as we wait for the conference to begin. Delegates stream past into the giant marquee behind us, joining the queues to get in. For now, there is a relaxed, cheerful atmosphere.

Last night, Zubeida and I  popped in at the the ANC’s gala dinner last night to join the 900 businesspeople who had each paid at least R2,700 for a seat.   Our table is all men, all of colour. Two of them businessmen from Cape Town, who will spend the week networking. Found myself beside  a very dapper gentleman from Kingwilliamstown in the Eastern Cape.

Zandisile Mda was wearing a black and white checked tie loosely knotted against a black shirt and white suit.  Designer Zwelinzima Vavi-style glasses.  Zandisile runs a transport business “trucks and buses” and contributes, he says, a substantial amount to the ANC “more than R10,000” but steered shy of saying how much more.  An ardent Zuma man, he explained his reasons: Motlanthe should have raised his objections internally. It was wrong to have stood against Zuma. It’s like when parents decide to jointly discipline a child, he says, and one parent then goes behind the other’s back and tells the child he didn’t really agree with the decision.

If Motlanthe could do something like that, you couldn’t trust him – next thing he could be selling the country.  He needed to grow into the role, as did Cyril Ramaphosa – I got the strong sense here of the paternalistic approach to politics. Age is respected; as is incumbent authority.

Zandisile says his ANC branch will vote for Zuma: “We educate our people so that they know why we want to retain him. When Zuma took over after Kgalema’s brief caretaker period, the old people were only earning R750 a month pension. Now it’s been adjusted up to over R1,000. In families where there are no parents or the parents are both unemployed, the children get free schooling and uniforms, a school meal and transport to school and back.”  The people now know that this is all thanks to Zuma.

It’s after 9pm and we’ve just been served our first course: a delicious salmon and cream cheese roulade. Zwai Bala and two Afrikaans brothers called the Centenary singers take the stage and perform in quick succession a medley of songs, starting with an opera aria, then Bruce Springsteen’s The Working Life,  Juluka’s Impi and then we all stand as they lead us in the national anthem.

Then a very cheerful and relaxed Zuma took the stage. Fresh from the day’s endless, grueling NEC meeting in which he had finally triumphed over his challenger and won the crucial extra votes he needed to stay in power.

Before friends, he was much more fluent than he appears on TV, speaking without notes, beaming bonhomie.

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