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Missing at Cosatu: Several phones and Gwede's bag

Verashni Pillay

The comical lost and found announcements at Cosatu's elective conference provided light relief during the four-day event, writes Verashni Pillay.

The comical lost and found announcements at Cosatu's elective conference provided light relief during the four-day event, write Verashni Pillay.

You have to take your entertainment where you can get it at a four-day political conference.

In the case of the Congress of South African Trade Unions's (Cosatu) 11th national conference, said entertainment came in the form of regular lost and found announcements, which would have given Monty Python a run for its money as far as absurdist humour goes.

Between long-winded debates and speeches came the light relief: the notice of "some few announcements" to follow, usually by Cosatu president S'dumo Dlamini.

These were surprisingly detailed descriptions of lost and found items.

"Where is Numsa?" asked Dlamini at one point, talking to the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa. "Now, one of you lost these glasses in the hotel, Monte Casino." He went on to address their president, Cedric Gina. "Please, Cedric come and get these glasses for your delegates. We don't want to open the glasses but the owner can see the box. You will get it from your president."

From the fancy red and black bags on wheels issued to each delegate to a plethora of phones, the nearly 3 000 delegates seemed to have a hard time keeping track of their possessions. And Dlamini had an even harder time of telling the audience what was missing in as few words as possible.

"I have money," he announced dramatically on Tuesday. "It was found outside. Only thing you have to do is tell me how much money it is you are losing then you will have it."

Later on it emerged that no one had come forward for said money, leading Dlamini to threaten letting delegates vote on what to do with it if the owner was not forthcoming.

Thankfully the situation was resolved before things came to such a dire state: given how long delegates took to agree on a single sentence in any one of their numerous reports before adopting it, we were likely to have been here until December if delegates were allowed to decided what should have been done with the lost and forlorn cash.

Indeed a single lost item seemed to form its own story thread that the conference would return to periodically. "The Orlando Pirates phone has been found. It's with its owner," announced Dlamini triumphantly at one stage.

The matter of lost phones was a weighty one.

"Comrades, a delegate has lost an iPhone 4s," he told us on Tuesday. "This iPhone was switched off as its battery was dying. It belongs to a Satawu delegate, this iPhone."

The case of the missing iPhone was to deepen as the day progressed. Later that evening it emerged the Satawu delegate had established the phone was in the hall but, in a dramatic twist, someone was refusing to return it.

But it was the cases of heartwarming honesty that got the audience cheering. A Sadtu delegate's bag was returned with the R1 200 in it intact after an announcement noting it was missing. "Whoever that comrade is we salute you, we are very much happy for your honesty," said a glowing Dlamini.

The delegates seemed to be as personally invested in the lost items as they were in the substantial threat posed by the Marikana crisis and breakaway unions. One man had to request that people stop asking after his lost item.

"Can I take away the burden you have been carrying?" asked Dlamini. "Yesterday we announced that Phutha's phone went missing. Now everyone has been coming up to Phutha asking him 'comrade do you have your phone', because they are so concerned ... I now want to formally announce that comrade Phutha has his phone. He is coming to us to say 'president, please announce that I have got my phone because everyone is being sympathetic'."

There are worse problems to have, comrade Phutha. Indeed, the darkest moment was when a certain Priscilla had mistakenly made off with the bag of, wait for it, none other than ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. The horror. "Can you imagine," asked Dlamini before going on to say: "Please, that bag which belongs to the [secretary general] of the ANC has the institutional memory of the ANC."

Not to mention his seething rebuff of Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi's political report which burned holes in both the South African Communist Party and the ANC. It seems only Priscilla would have been privy to the potential skull and crossbones scrawled across the printout of Vavi's report.

Ah the joys of the lost and found. Viva, "some few announcements", viva!


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