As a national elective conference virgin, attending the ANC’s showboat event is a mind-opening and mind-boggling experience. And with those fresh eyes comes a particular perspective. Hosting an event for almost 5000 delegates from every corner of South Africa is a gargantuan task, and just like many other areas in service delivery the ANC gets an F on its report card.
Mangaung, and its main component Bloemfontein, are currently under siege by the ANC in almost every possible way. The roads are jammed with more dark luxury SUVs than a cocaine dealers’ convention in Sandton, while the restaurants and bars heave with the patronage of those escorted in blue lights. And as the retailers and service providers of Mangaung cash in on the extravaganza, the logistics of putting on the greatest show ever seen outside of Las Vegas are creaking under the disorganisation and arrogance of the ANC.
Prior to getting stuck into the nitty-gritty of national jockeying and electioneering, non-ANC attendees require accreditation to walk the halls of Free State University and loiter within the tents and briefing centres set-up by the ruling party. This number of external attendees run into the thousands, and getting them all approved and legal in a single day, in a single venue, is no mean feat.
Yet nothing could have prepared me for the mayhem that awaited the media as we scrambled for the laminated golden tickets to the circus that just rolled into town. After early news of “crashing systems” had filtered through the media fraternity, we re-assembled outside the Francois Retief building, press cards in hand, eagerly awaiting our stamps of approval. We joined what seemed to be at least another 1,000 people in a reception hall adjoining the medical hospital rooms. Waiters, security guards, make-up artists, cleaners and journalists sweltered together in 40 degree-plus conditions with little ventilation and much consternation.
It was a somewhat ironic throwback to the worst memories of my university days, where the first week of each year was spent in snaking queues under the sweating sun as we tried to secure our places in our chosen curricula. But that was 16 years ago, before technology permeated our everyday lives. Surely with the benefit of fancy computers, something as simple as ticking off one’s name and having our digital photos taken (again) would sail as smoothly as a Carnegie Hall rendition of Swan Lake.
Instead, lines of service providers and media converged into one big spaghetti junction, each jostling for position in a queue that inched forward every half an hour. Some waited for up to five hours in those wretched conditions, whilst others bailed several times in favour of returning later to queues that only subsided after 9pm. The accreditation process was certainly not for the impatient or the claustrophobic. And before you motion for this journalist to cry you a river, consider the poor in-patients of Universitas hospital who were subjected to the same bitter pill of the ANC’s organisational skills.
Saturday followed with what could almost be described as a media blackout by the ruling party. Scheduled press conferences were abandoned without notice and event information from the ANC was as scarce as legitimate deposits in Julius Malema’s bank account. The fiasco unfolding from the unlawful Free State nomination process, combined with the general ANC disdain for those outside its inner circle, meant confusion and chaos reigned in Bloemfontein.
A security scare had by now made the university grounds off-limits to all vehicles, unless they had been through yet another accreditation process involving more wasted hours of queuing. And a process which, incidentally, needs to be repeated each time you want to enter the faculty grounds. I’m all for securing the wellbeing and security of our elected leaders, but is it too much to ask for a little communication and courtesy, especially when so many decisions seemed to be made on a whim?
To the unseasoned and yet to be cynicised eye of newbie on the storm-chasing trail of the ANC, the blatant unpreparedness and arrogance in approach of setting up the 53rd elective conference was a personification of the way the ANC has ruled South Africa. Things do get done in the end, but only after much sweating and suffering. Replace the image of burly journalists sweating it out in a university hall with frail pensioners lining up under the oppressive African sun for their meagre payouts. Or shack dwellers taking to the streets as the lack of progress in housing and provision of basic amenities wastes into their sewerage filled streets. Or the fact that 95% of municipalities that failed to achieve clean audits in 2011/12. Or the thousands of learners who remain without access to hope or textbooks in Limpopo.
Non-delivery, arrogance and an overwhelming sense of entitlement are words which I think can describe the current state of the ANC, both when dealing with its people and dealing with the non-member attendees of this conference. It seems the only efficiencies that remain in the party are securing the 17-inch wheels that transport high-ranking officials from one upmarket bar to the next, while the rest of us suffer under the incompetence of those who act or fail to act without consequence. This now-cynical journalist has two hopes for my tormentors: first, that delegates endure a registration process that is similarly reminiscent of a 1,000-person sauna; and second, that the years of acting without consequences results in the greatest consequence of all. DM
With a high-school prize for best supporting actor in a one-act play and as captain of the chess team, Charalambous qualified to join the esteemed ranks of the Daily Maverick opinionistas. He now resides in Cape Town, working in media and irritating the old guard of the South African rugby with some liberal thinking.
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas