“Please note, fun fair closes at 19:00,” reads a sign at the entrance to the fairground at the Nasrec complex, just opposite the entrance where the media is allowed to enter the precinct where the ANC is holding its 54th elective conference.
There is a special sadness about a derelict fairground. It evokes the same emotion as a drunken clown smoking a cigarette by himself in a bar while last rounds are called.
One of the abandoned rides in the fairground promises “the ride of your life”. It reminds me of that Green Day song where the chorus goes, “I hope you had the time of your life”. The song’s name is “Good Riddance”, but let’s not get factional now…
Well, political junkies like myself are here for “the rides of our life”, and of a more pressing concern than the fairground’s closing time is when the black, green, gold branded funfair inside Nasrec starts for real.
After Friday’s court challenges and an urgent special NEC meeting on Saturday morning, things did not look promising. Around the breakfast table, bets were laid on when Jacob Zuma wiould address the conference, with the smart money on 16:00.
After breakfast, we got an Uber from our lodgings in Melville to Nasrec and debated whether Saturday is the first or second day of the conference.
“It’s the second, even the TV says so,” our Uber driver informed the four journalists squashed into his Kia Rio. He hopes Ramaphosa wins.
Stopping at the Sasol service station just outside, it is clear that the conference is near. And not just because of the ANC flags on the lamp poles. A man with ANC branded sneakers gets into an Audi SUV, and a few people are seen wearing ANC colours.
As we drive around Nasrec to find the entrance journalists can use, we see the stalls with ANC merchandise being set up.
After going through the security check (a policeman joked that he wants to search my beard, and News24 editor Adriaan Basson warned me that beards are viewed with more suspicion here up north than in “hipsterville” Cape Town), rounding the derelict fairground, going past another man checking our accreditation, we made it to the media encampment.
Encampment, yes. We are prevented from getting close to the delegates by railings, with a man with a stern face and the uniform of a private security company manning the entrance. There are also people with tags around their necks, reading “ANC security” among the journo’s, with a woman who sat around News24’s studio carrying a notebook.
On Friday, when my movements weren’t restricted, I walked around the Nasrec grounds and saw a lot of guys, who could only be of the police’s VIP protection unit, around. They have a certain look about them.
However, on Saturday morning you could tell by the black Audis, Mercedes and BMWs parked beneath the trees that the ANC’s top brass is at Nasrec.
A police helicopter swooped over Nasrec, followed by a small aeroplane with “POLICE” painted in blue on its wings.
A group of delegates started singing reasonably close to the journo encampment. Some made the football substitution sign.
Naturally, this grabs attention of most of the journalists, since nothing else is happening. Well, at least, not what we are allowed to see.
When the interest waned, there was a rush for the room where the press briefings are held. After a little while, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe enters.
He tells the journalists there that proceedings will start at 14:00.
But nobody is holding their breath. He has been found to be Mantashe-ing in the past.
Shortly before 12:00, a group of delegates start singing, again with the substitution sign. A group of delegates in the green outfits of the ANC Women’s League come past, singing in praise of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
“BOOOOOOO!” the other group shouts.
The funfair might not be open yet, but the games have started.
(Photo credit: Jan Gerber)