Talking to empty chairs: Why Mangaung won’t be Tampa, and other musings

By Richard Poplak 31 August 2012

In December, will Leon Schuster address an empty chair standing in for Thabo Mbeki? No? Then why are we bothering? By RICHARD POPLAK.

Ah, man. What a week. A storm shaped like a vagina headed straight for the Florida coast, threatening to interrupt the Republican convention. Instead, it just store up Louisiana, as American storms tend to do. The convention went on apace, and it was a lesson in how many fat whites still wear cowboy suits outside of Halloween. Were the ANC paying attention? Of course they weren’t, because they’re planning their own coming gathering (whilst being inconvenienced by the fallout from a massacre, and other minor brouhahas). What lessons, one wonders, can the ANC take from Tampa? 

It’s not about the party. It’s about you.

New Jersey Governor Christie’s keynote address was the best ANC speech an ANC comrade has never made. He came to fete Mitt Romney—at least that was the idea—and instead auditioned for the same gig come 2016. First half of the speech, he barely mentioned Mitt at all. Second half of the speech, he mentioned Mitt in passing. It was about his own record, his own small government credentials, his own enormous belt buckle. The ANC is filled with self-serving, power-hungry hogs-at-the-trough? Well, yes. But the GOP is too.

Teeth whitening

In politics, teeth cannot be white enough. Have you ever seen such a dazzling array of chompers in one place before you watched the Tampa convention coverage? If the ANC know their oats, they are currently putting out a tender for a phalanx of cosmetic dental technologists. If Tokyo is smart, he’s found a cousin who can work an angle grinder on an incisor tooth.

Young people are exciting

This is something the ANC may know too well, what with the occasional trouble they’ve had from their spunky youth league. The GOP doesn’t properly have a youth league, they have a Tea Party, full of spicy Young Turks ready to git ‘er done. Vice President-in-waiting, Paul Ryan, is a huge deal because he’s—and I’m quoting almost every news outlet in the universe here—“the first Gen X’er to make it this far.” Apparently, Gen X’ers are supposed to be watching The Big Lebowski and trying to get their band back together—not running the free world. Then there was Florida Senator Mark Rubio, praying for Cuba (can Hispanics also be Gen X’ers?) while being a proud American. Did you happen to catch the look Ryan gave Rubio during the speech? Daggers! Come to think of it, maybe there’s something the GOP could learn from the ANC—how to shiv a fellow up-and-comer in broad daylight.

Wives make you look human

Ann Romney’s speech made Mitt look like less of an automaton. Think of what Zuma’s wives could do for him. Dude could leave Manguang coming off like a teddy bear. 

Sweeping camera shots add import

The Republican convention was filmed like an NFL Superbowl game, with sweeping shots coming down from the rafters, and tracking shots that took in the audience in all their funny-hatted glory. Film conventions like a sporting tournament, and they are both more exciting and more important. If the ANC know their oats, they’re putting out a tender for a team of high-end camera people. If Tokyo is smart…you get the picture.

Ignore reality I

Twenty-three million unemployed people in America, and the Republicans drop 50 million bones on a party. There are 23 million unemployed people in South Africa, so this is one area in which the ANC can handily keep pace. 

Ignore reality II

Blame the other guy for the problems your last guy caused. Again, the ANC has turned this into an art form. You have to wonder if they were consulted.


Wave a lot. Point. Then wave. Take a small flag, and wave that. Then point. Then wave again. 

Awkward celebrity cameos

Watch: Clint Eastwood talking to “Obama”

Can’t have enough of these. Mostly because old people in front of large crowds can never go wrong. The GOP de-iced Clint Eastwood from his cryogenic pod, and rolled him in. He trumped out old movie lines (“OK, you wanna make my day? Alright. I’ll start it. You finish it. Go ahead, make my day”), went wildly off message (“You thought the war in Afghanistan was OK. I mean, you thought that was something that was worth doing. We didn’t check with the Russians to see how they did there for 10 years. But we did it”) and spoke to an empty chair. Perhaps John Kani could address a sofa as Madiba? Arnold Vosloo is getting up there. Maybe he could speak to a love seat as Gwede Mantashe. We have options. Let’s hope the ANC exercises them.

Everybody packs

Keeps the party civil. There were few zaftig hips unadorned by semi-automatic weaponry at the Republican love fest. And was anyone gunned down? No, of course not. It probably helped to have Clint Eastwood there, but I think the ANC can safely hand out Glocks to all participants in December, and calm will prevail. 


As President Zuma has on numerous occasions pointed out, God votes ANC. Not only that, he expects everyone in the country to do the same. That South Africa in many places is a pretty good approximation of hell goes unmentioned, but the point is that God needs to be thanked in Mangaung, as he was in Tampa, roughly every 24 seconds. The Big Guy in the Sky is the most important spectator at a political convention. Can’t win an election without him.


Perhaps even more important than God, but only slightly. Have to have a few in the VIP seats. This is postmodern politics, of course. And every party needs its patrons. DM

Photo: Clint Eastwood addresses an empty chair and questions it as if it is U.S. President Obama, as he endorses Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 30, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer


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