The campaign trail is a strange place. It goes from lavatorial through funny to just plain odd very quickly. And sometimes there's some good debate. Which is why STEPHEN GROOTES can’t get enough of it.
It has to be one of the darkest, dingiest office blocks in central Joburg. The lights are pure Eskom circa January 2008, the carpets pure puke grey. It’s number 84 Market Street, just across from the Gauteng Legislature. Inside, on the second floor (thankfully the lifts are better than those at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital) is a group of dark recesses, leading to nowhere in particular. In the darkest deepest recess of them all, when your intrepid journo arrived, was a press conference. It had already started. That in itself was noteworthy. You see, in its brief history the Congress of the People had never held a press conference that started on time.
But no matter, with a muttered apology, I entered the room where two young men were in mid-flow. The occasion, not so much grand as dingy, was the official “launch” of Cope’s mayoral candidate for Joburg. You’d think that was worth of an event. You’d be wrong. The chap, Preddy Mothopeng (don’t bother trying to remember it) was discussing his vision of Joburg. It’s going to be a 24-hour city, where nothing ever closes. It seems this would make it more productive and would create jobs, as now government would hire two shifts of workers etc. (Hmmm, would love to see him discuss that with our friends at the SA Municipal Workers Union.)
But it’s a week to go until people vote, the Independent Electoral Commission says you can’t campaign after Monday morning 07:00. So he only has a few days. He’s not worried, “Genesis says God created the heavens and the Earth in six days, and on the seventh day he relaxed, that has given us inspiration”. Oh, we love it when the Creator gets involved in grubby politics. It was a religious metaphor that he simply couldn’t stop using. All the time.
But out in that corridor, where the audience was just one microphone, after making sure he hadn’t stepped on anything nasty on that carpet, Mothopeng was a little more honest. “We had to be strategic, we had get rid of the moles in our party first, to clean ourselves”. Oh wonderful, at least there’s a spy story in here. So basically, it’s all about the infighting within Cope. Which means he has no hope.
Someone with plenty of hope is David Makhura. He’s the Gauteng provincial secretary of the ANC. He pitched up to a debate with DA Joburg mayoral candidate Mmusi Maimane and IFP MP Sibongile Nkomo at the Johannesburg Press Club. Less on the dingy, more on the actual talking. It’s a rare privilege to watch a mature debate, where there’s give and take, and that’s what we got. Partly because Makhura is a good sport, and partly because DA's Maimane is a fantastic speaker.
Perhaps it was the introduction, it was chaired, can you believe, by a man pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man. Perhaps we got that wrong, perhaps it was a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. It was all very “Victor/Victoria” but s/he was brilliant. The full name is Beauty Ramapelepele (she’s on at the Old Mutual Theatre on the Square this week). First there was a joke about being late because s/he had been on Thabo Mbeki Drive that crossed Jacob Zuma Avenue twice, but what really drove Makhura to the edge of his seat with laughter was the, “I always ask a middle-aged white man for directions, they know the fastest way out of the country”.
But once we’d all recovered the conch was handed around. Nkomo was okay, but a little dull, Maimane was brilliant. He spoke at length and eloquently about the city’s finances, about how, “I agree with the president, we need to depoliticise administration”. Then there was the cherry on the top, “In Setswana culture, where I’m from, rain is a blessing, in Joburg, if it rains it means a shack is flooded, a pothole is getting bigger and a robot has stopped working”. Pure theatre.
Makhura is not outdone easily, however, and he gave a good account of the ANC’s record in office, concentrating particularly on how Soweto now has roads and parks - which didn’t have back in 1994. There was also mention of how the ANC’s rule in Joburg had attracted big company headquarters.
Then there was the little titbit. He was asked, for about the fifth time by this reporter, who is the ANC’s mayoral candidate for Joburg (perhaps I’m just forgetful, or maybe the ANC has a very good political reason for not wanting to tell us). His answer, after a back-handed compliment about persistence, was that, “We have very gifted councillors, one of them is Parks Tau”. That’s probably as much confirmation as we’ll get.
This trail is now near its end. Both Maimane and the Gauteng ANC are planning press conferences for Thursday, so there’s still some game left. And, of course, there’s the grand climax to come with the ANC’s massive Siyanqoba rally on Sunday. We will be slightly disappointed when it’s all over. But we can’t wait to watch the results come in. Difficult to explain, we know. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.
Photo: DA's Johannesburg Mayoral candidate, Mmusi Maimane. (DA Flickr stream)