Ndumiso Ngcobo
Ndumiso Ngcobo

A blogger in Polokwane … an experiment gone wrong

livefrompolo.gifI believe in affirmative action. This noble policy has ensured that this blogger has had plenty of experience with being thrown into the deep end and expected to sink swim. It’s old news by now that it seems that I have made history by being the first blogger to gain accreditation for the Mecca of the political calendar in the land. I know; my initial reaction was the same. Why would a reputable organisation such as the M&G send a politically ignorant, self-indulgent blogger without any experience of covering … anything, really, to the ANC conference?

The BS explanation from the powers that be is that they want something new — a fresh perspective that will deviate from “the norm”. (In essence: “We have enough knowledgeable, sane people to write credible analysis. We need a bit of madness.”) My personal reading of the situation is that I’m an affirmative-action appointee representing bloggers everywhere. I’m a guinea pig released into this setting just to see what will happen. Alrighty then.

I won’t bore you with the details of the alleged B&B (more of an Oliver Twist orphanage-type set-up) that the cheapskates put me up in. I will say two things, though. One: if the couple who are running Tannie Marietjie’s Boarding House were any weirder, the Addams Family would be the very picture of functionality. Two: these religious nuts are clearly Mbeki-ites — no shower in the house. That’s right; I took a bath this morning. Here, let me hold you while you regurgitate. I know, I know; taking a bath is an archaic, filthy, disgusting practice from the Dark Ages. The details are unwarranted.

So picture it, if you will, a short chubby man wandering around the University of Limpopo campus at about 8.45am this morning. I think I looked pretty good in my “good cap” too — apparently I remind women people of Samuel L Jackson in Jackie Brown. My brief was to kind of, sort of “walk around, look around and make observations”. So I threw myself into this task of, well, looking into this whole “walking around … looking around” situation with an energetic fervour that didn’t betray the fact that I’d spent the evening looking into the beer situation all over Polokwane until about 3am. At some point I’d found myself inside a joint called the Cock and Bull. (Insert your own juvenile joke here.)

I must confess that as an impressionable young man back in the late Eighties and early Nineties, I had flirted with the notion of carving myself a niche in the liberation movement. All I got for my troubles were a few nasty experiences such as inhaling copious amounts of tear gas and being chased down by an incredibly relentless SAP constable all the way from the Students’ Union Building of the (then) University of Natal, Durban, campus to the foyer of the EG Malherbe Library. As the blows from his baton rained upon me, my commitment to the struggle wavered somewhat. Read as: “My involvement from that point onwards was limited to authoring cryptic, subversive messages (‘Fuck De Klerk’) on the walls of the Students’ Union men’s ablution facilities.”

Walking around the Limpopo university campus this morning, I felt like I was back in the early Nineties during my klipgooier days. I didn’t realise that the rank-and-file of the movement still engaged in traditional ANC-speak:

ANC-speak: The comrade is not exhibiting revolutionary discipline as enshrined in the ethos of the movement and his utterances are not advancing the national democratic revolution …

Translation: He’s full of shit.

At this point I’m going to sommer post my notes from this morning and dazzle you with my deep, incisive and astute political acumen.

8.48am: Wandering around the perimeter of the conference area. I join a group of animated comrades from the Chris Hani region in the Eastern Cape. Some kind of briefing session and caucus. I sift through their ANC-speak rubble and get the message loud and clear — it is too late in the day to go back now. So Msholozi it is.

8.52am-9.10am: Security barring media from entering the marquee. After a few attempted suicide missions to try to gain illegal access and being ejected more forcefully each time, I retire to my perimeter vantage spot to lick my wounds. The revolutionary talk from the Eastern Cape firebrands is even more heated. I hear the first rendition of Umshini Wami inside the tent.

9.10am–9.49am: I finally sneak in by pulling out the big guns; I charm a security lady by doing my Sam L Jackson routine. I must use my powers judiciously in future. The VIPs start trickling into the marquee. Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Charles Nqakula, Terror Lekota are booed loudly as their faces appear on the big screen. Blade, Phosa are cheered loudly. Hmmm … a taste of things to come?

9.57am: I finally find myself a spot right in front of the podium where Mbeki and Zuma will be seated. Or so I think. It seems that I have taken someone’s spot — it belongs to a particularly aggressive woman from Reuters. After some half-hearted resistance, my land grab comes to a dramatic end and I am evicted after she brings reinforcements in the form of a male colleague. Crap. I wonder out loud if fistfights are commonplace in media circles.

10.02am: After some more wandering, I finally lay claim to a stake of a piece of real estate to the right of the podium. As I sit down, I make eye contact with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. From my sharp oblique angle, I think she just winked at me. Damn this cap for making me look so attractive. But then again, she might have had something in her eye. Still; I’m smiling smugly to myself.

10.03am: I’m seated just to the right of the “Isithwalandwe” (former struggle heroes) and “Former NEC members” row — the used-to-be-important-once-upon-a-time (UTBIOUAT) part of the marquee. I catch Makhenkesi Stofile casting furtive glances from the NEC podium at Andrew Mlangeni, one of the Isithwalandwes seated next to Ahmed Kathrada. The look in his eye has a bunny-caught-in-the-headlights connotation — is he going to be part of the UTBIOUAT in five years’ time? The extended singing of Umshini Wami reverberating through the tent cannot be a source of comfort. The smell of mutiny hangs in the air.

10.06am: Popo Molefe walks towards the podium. He trips on the tip of my elongated, girly shoes that my wife insists are “very in” and almost falls. I reel in my outstretched leg to avoid a potential international incident. What if that had been the ambassador of Iran and he had fallen, hit his head and died and now the Iranians allege that I am a CIA agent? It could happen — especially with my whole podgy Sam Jackson thing I have going over here.

10.08am-10.14am: “Terror” Lekota goes up to the mic. He is booed for a full six minutes while the Umshini Wami rendition goes on unabated. He tries unsuccessfully to interject with futile shouts of “Amandla!” and “Ayihlale phansi ibamb’ umthetho! [Yo, mah niggaz, sit your asses down!]”.

10.15am–10.46am: Sweet Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the college of saints! I sense some serious venom towards Lekota. The delegates are emulating that arm-roll motion that disgruntled Bafana fans (Whoever says “Is there any other kind?”, please grow up) use to communicate that they want a particular player substituted. There is a drawn-out back-and-forthing over the issue of the adoption of the agenda. This is going to be a long day.

10.53am: The ANC electoral commission has been up on stage for a while, at pains to explain the electoral process. The chair of the electoral process, Bertha Gxowa, dazzles all and sundry with some incredible breakthrough thinking. Apparently, in this election, the candidates with a higher tally of votes will be declared the winners. Wow.

11am: Dr Manto walks off the stage with a mysterious smile on her face — like someone who knows something we all don’t. She’s dressed in an oversized, paramedics-like Red Cross shirt that comes to her knees. Two journos from one of the Scandinavian countries struggle to contain their giggles. I think they should grow up — what’s funny about Manto?

11.08am: An increasingly agitated Terror is still on the podium displaying an incredible lack of clarity around due process in the adoption of the electoral rules. It’s the vote counting: manual or electronic? Yawn. Finally, Motlanthe and Netshitenzhe save the day by whispering in Lekota’s ear a few times. Terror looks extremely confused and shouts out: “Who’s that? Who are you? Where are you?” several times to try to identify speakers from the floor.

11.26am: Finally, Mbeki starts to speak. Wait, scratch that. Mbeki starts reading from his 42-page presidential report in his usual level monotone. I hope he’s not planning on reading the whole thing.

11.49am: Sweet Jesus! I think he is seriously planning to read the whole damn thing word for word. We’re only on page seven but my butt is already sore. B-b-but everybody has a copy of the report! What’s the point of this exercise? Surely he should have a compressed version and refer us to the voluminous document for reference? There’s a murderous glint in the eye of one of the delegates at this point as Mbeki drones on, ratting off stats laboriously.

12.01pm: The president drones on. I’ve logged on to my PC now and I’m keeping myself entertained by Googling stats that are contrary to the president’s. I wonder if I’d make a name for myself if I stood up and protested vigorously: “I object, Mr President! The Mafisa initiative did not distribute R42,2-million to 5 211 farmers. I just Googled it and that figure is inflated.” I wonder if my M&G posse would intervene as they dragged me outside. Riaan does not inspire confidence — I think he’d pretend not to know me and let the thingamabouncers beat me up.

12.44pm: More droning. My admiration for the president is well documented and everything, but if I listen to another five minutes of this, I might have to adopt my own armed struggle on pure principle. Anything to make him stop. I see some wet paint in the process of drying plucking its nasal hair to get some excitement in the sheer boringness of this whole exercise. Is this guy trying to get as many people as possible not to vote for him? Oh, wait; this is one of those ANC traditions that I know nothing about, being a yellow-bellied fallen comrade and all that.

1.13pm: The torture continues unabated. I send my wife an SMS: “Are you watching this? We are only on page 29, ferchrissakes! Suicide is starting to become an attractive option.” I think I have successfully moulded my used-to-be-sweet wife into my image. “This is great for me. I have managed to put both our brats to sleep by placing them in front of the TV,” is her response. Karema Brown ofBusiness Day, seated to my right, is now lying flat on her back. Ohmygod! She’s pointing a gun at her head to end it all … oh, sorry — she’s busy sending SMSs as well. I can only guess …

1.16pm: Dr Manto has been outside twice already. Now I see Comrade Blade stand up and, on unsteady legs, walk out. His eyes are bloodshot and he’s staggering — I think he’s been napping. I yawn. A delegate yawns. We all have a collective yawn.

1.27pm: I now have pain in muscles and cartilage in places where I didn’t even know I had joints. There’s a serious ergonomic damage crisis waiting to happen here. (Note to self: Loads of money waiting to be made by placing a dozen massage tables in the media centre this evening.)

1.54pm: The nightmare ends. This is not what I had in mind. Ah, well; I have a source of comfort — Umshini Wami fills the tent again. Damn, that song is contagious — I’m starting to hum along.

This is an experiment gone horribly wrong.

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