Ferial Haffajee
Ferial Haffajee

Networking

livefrompolo.gifI am bourgeois. There it is. Admitted. Along with my other big B friends and acquaintances, I trekked to the Network Lounge for “proper” coffee. “Proper” coffee being ground coffee, not the Ricoffy on sale at the student canteen next to the media centre here at the Limpopo University.

At least I didn’t mutter “civilisation” like they did at the sight of all those familiar things we political reporters from Jozi, Cape Town and Pretoria are used to. Like air-conditioned media centres, pretty toilets with two kinds of flushes and a force-feed of press releases and conferences where all we have to do is transmit the agenda of power.

In the democratic chaos that is the Polokwane conference, the ANC’s forgotten all about the media except to chase our arses from the plenary tent or to assure us that all is swell when it patently isn’t. The ANC, normally a media darling, would rather we weren’t here and with big battles to fight, we are on our own to find our own stories. Which is how it should be …

This is why I hot-tailed to the Network Lounge, ostensibly to find a source or two but really for the coffee and the chicken salad. I am probably destined for re-education camp under our new socialist president Zuma. I can’t wait. That coffee costs me a fortune. But then, perhaps we won’t be going to camp. Our new man doesn’t live the live of a man of the people. He has the longest convoy in Polokwane town and, according to the Sunday Times, a sizeable harem.

The network lounge is spiffy. With a high-end internet cafe, lounges, an Absa sponsored bookshop and various stalls, it’s not surprising that it’s such a popular venue. Organiser Nicholas Wolpe walked around like the cat that licked the cream, imploring journalists to do a “nice” story on his palace of patronage.

In the dining room, old power nestled next to new. Ranjeni Munusamy, spin-doctor to JZ (it’s a catchy acronym) had lunch with her favourite journalist and Zuma biographer Jeremy Gordin. Durban businessman Vivian Reddy, who is organising a victory party for his man in Polokwane and in Durban, swanned around looking way more confident than Essop Pahad who told us that “it’ll all be OK” and that it wasn’t over till it’s over.

There were several ministers in the network lounge, directors general (at the conference as “deployed cadres”), mayors, diplomats, a deputy minister and a host of black business leaders making sweet with political power. The cars parked behind the lounge are those that make mad dashes between Polokwane and the university, forcing lesser cars out of the way. Black X5 BMW’s, Mercs, Chryslers, you name it …

There’s too much distance between “us” in the lounge and “them” in the buses and the residences with names such as Che Guevara, Samora Machel and Onkopotse Tiro. The delegates eat in dining halls from where I’ll get lunch tomorrow. The coffee may not be great, but the ANC is shifting from the network lounge to the dining hall. It is an important shift for the ANC to make, but one wonders if all delegates are doing is exchanging one set of networkers for another. One set of glam wheels for another. One us for another us?