How do SA Cabinet members unwind?

What does President Thabo Mbeki like to do in his spare time? Ballroom dancing? Playing the piano? No, the man likes to work during leisure hours, says his spokesperson.

As the ruling party’s national conference in Polokwane approaches—an event that could change careers—members of the South African Cabinet certainly need ways to unwind.

Starting at the top, what does Mbeki do when he has time to relax?

“Work, work, work,” says presidential spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga.

After a bit of probing, he concedes that Mbeki does have some hobbies, such as listening to jazz and classical music at home.

And does the president still enjoy surfing the internet?

“He reads everything,” says Ratshitanga.

Ratshitanga said he did not know if Mbeki still enjoyed smoking a pipe.

Climbing mountains is what Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka does to unwind, her spokesperson Thabang Chiloane says.

She also likes listening to local music stars such as Yvonne Chaka-Chaka and Miriam Makeba, as well as reading biographies. The last one she read was Oliver Tambo’s.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma “enjoys reading, interacting with people and debate”, says her spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa.

“She must watch news at all times,” he says, listing the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), SABC Africa, CNN and BBC as her channels of choice.

When not putting all her “passion in her work around the world to create a better life for all”, she may read something by Ben Okri, her favourite author.

Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Lulama Xingwana is another politician who seems to use her relaxation time to catch up on work.

“She’s always at political meetings, even at weekends she deals with land issues and restitution programmes”.

Xingwana is also an unassuming art collector, her spokesperson Godfrey Mdhluli says.

He says she loves pottery and beadwork and often purchases items when travelling the country.

Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad—who was once a keen soccer player—now loves watching the beautiful game and is a Kaizer Chiefs fan, his spokesperson says.

The minister is also a dedicated historical bookworm, having completed a doctorate in the history of Indian political movements in South Africa.

Yet, while he may be an intellectual high-flyer, when it comes to singing or dancing, “he’s not good in both” confides his spokesperson Samson Phakwago.

If anyone embodies the Renaissance man, it must surely be Minister of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula.

Nqakula has played piano and composed music since he was a child.

“He is a bit rusty with the guitar” but when it comes to singing and dancing, “I think he is pretty good”, says spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi.

He also writes “political” and “inspirational” poems and is a keen hunter when he goes home to Craddock in the Eastern Cape.

Sports and Recreation Minister Makhenkesi Stofile reads and writes Greek, Hebrew and German and has been a lawn-tennis player since primary school. He has also coached rugby and cricket and was national ballroom dance champion from 1972 to 1975.

“He is strong in tango, quick step and foxtrot [in that order],” said his spokesperson Lerato Mkhize.

He wears black trunks, white shirts and tail coats when performing and his wife was his partner from 1972 to 1975.

Stofile is also a prolific reader of biographies—including his boss Thabo Mbeki’s—and a fan of the Animal Planet channel.

Minister of Intelligence Ronald Kasrils spends his spare time involved in the “struggle of other countries”, his spokesperson Lorna Daniels says.

He is passionate abut the Palestinian cause and his reading choice matches this pursuit, being “heavy stuff on the Middle East”.

Although gardening is the first hobby he lists on the government website, his spokesperson says it is unlikely he has had time to do this for a while.

Defence Minister Mosiuoa Gerard Patrick Lekota is a “very good storyteller” as well as a “fitness fanatic”, who swims, runs and used to compete in the Cape Argus bicycle race.

When it comes to Bloemfontein rugby team the Cheetahs, it seems the defence minister can get a little defensive himself.

“He’s a crazy Cheetahs fan,” says his spokesperson Sam Mkhwanazi.

“When the Cheetahs play the Bulls there is tension in the office between him and his deputy.”

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana loves cooking traditional African food, including samp and beans, uMleqwa (free-range chicken), ulusu and dombolo (tripe and dumplings) and smagwinya (fat cakes).

“He particularly loves preparing the dough for his fat cakes which he believes needs to be well done for the best outcome,” says his spokesperson Zolisa Sigabi.

However his favourite food is uMphokoqo—African salad—made from maize meal.

“He swears no one can cooks uMphokoqo as well as he does.”

The Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Lindiwe Hendricks, is artistically inclined.

A self-taught painter and musician, she is a fan of jazz, African hip-hop and R&B.

The minister also loves inspirational books, said her spokesperson Linda Page.

“This month alone she finished The Secret, The Law of Attraction and The Monk who sold his Ferrari.”

Although Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Mpahlwa lists a wide range of hobbies on the government website, this might not be an accurate reflection of reality.

“I have not seen any evidence of a life outside work. If he has hobbies he expresses them rhetorically,” said spokesperson Vukani Mde.

“In the five months since I’ve been here, I can’t recall one weekend in which the minister doesn’t work. Since his appointment in 2004 he has never been on a holiday. In that way he is probably the most boring minister in Cabinet.”

Mde said since training in economics “[The minister] thinks economics is a hobby”.

“His chief of staff ... I have a lot of sympathy for him. He’s held hostage. He has meetings on Friday until 12am—and again on Saturday and Sunday.

If you tell him it’s a problem to work 18 hours a day, “he thinks you have the problem because you don’t like working”, said Mde.

None of the Cabinet members would agree to pose for photographs indulging in their leisure activities. In an apparent reference to the upcoming African National Congress conference in Polokwane, one spokesperson explained: “The ministers need to be careful how they are portrayed in such delicate times.” - Sapa



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