It's tata ma chance to meet ANC bigwigs
In the heat of the business tent, Progressive Business Forum co-founder Renier Schoeman paused outside the umpteenth stall at which President Jacob Zuma was being mobbed by flashing cameras and eager business people, leaned against a pole and mopped his face.
Zuma was two hours late for the walkabout in the forum's tent in Mangaung on Wednesday and Schoeman, along with his co-founder Derek Swanepoel, had their hands full appeasing various business people who had shelled out hundreds of thousands of rands for the chance to rub elbows with influential leaders in the ruling party.
The tent, just across from where the ANC delegates held their daily sessions at the party's national elective conference, saw a daily influx of powerful business people under its white canvas.
Mining and corporate executives and bankers all made an appearance. Companies booked tables at the gala dinner for up to R500 000 for the pleasure of dining with Zuma and his then-deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe. Stands at the business centre cost anywhere from R25 000 to R500 000.
"Is it worth it?" I wanted to know. Pandelani Mathoma, a general manager at Old Mutual, answered quizzically: "It's invaluable."
Mathoma's moment arrived when Zuma stopped at his company's stand and he could rush to expound on the company's corporate social investment and other investments in transformation.
Agri SA president Johannes Möller was pragmatic about buying time with the people who matter. "Just to meet with a minister costs as much as it does to be here for a few days," he said, referring to the costs of getting the various farmers in the union into a meeting. "Our main purpose is to influence policy. To do that you need to meet the policymakers."
Then there were the usual friends of the ANC. The Guptas were everywhere: watching the stage inside the plenary as Zuma won in a landslide victory, embracing ministers in a warm greeting and tweeting their predictions on a government reshuffle following the conference.
"From the looks of it I think half the NEC [national executive committee] will not make next term?" tweeted Atul, patriarch of the controversial family.
Billionaire Patrice Motsepe shared a table with Zuma at the gala dinner and businessperson Vivian Reddy was seen lunching in the tented restaurant adjoining the stands. He later bought a ticket at Gidani's stand – the Lotto operators.
The company paid R500 000 for the stand and three tables at the ANC's fundraising gala dinner on the Saturday night before the conference began. Its chief executive, Bongani Khumalo, was also spotted in the forum's tent.
But Agri SA deputy president Theo de Jager cautioned against the casual bonhomie between politicians and big business, noting that the business-friendly tone in the tent stood in stark contrast to the ANC's actions. "What's being said here and what's being done out there are two different planets. And people react to what is out there."