Big business coughs up for ANC birthday celebrations

Jacob Zuma visits the business exhibitors’ centre during the ANC’s conference at Mangaung in 2012. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Jacob Zuma visits the business exhibitors’ centre during the ANC’s conference at Mangaung in 2012. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Fancy yourself in a political networkers’ paradise – a lounge filled with ministers, premiers and parliamentarians, with a top-end bar and buffet lunch? 

For starters, your pockets will have to be deeper than a fire pool to enjoy just that in the ANC’s corporate hospitality lounge at the party’s annual January 8 birthday celebrations, which takes place this year on Saturday January 10 in Cape Town.

The party sets out its direction for the year at the event, which also forms part of its fundraising drive.

“It [the networking lounge] will be flowing with ministers, premiers, parliamentarians, government officials, captains of industries and celebrities [mingling] in our stunning hospitality area,” according to the corporate pitch contained in a financial report about the event, which ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize presented to a national executive committee (NEC) meeting in November. 

The party is decidedly secretive about just how much businesses will be charged to be in the VIP lounge for the day, but it is expected to be pricey.

At the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference, businesses were charged R5-million each for a stall in the networking lounge during the four-day event.

The hospitality area will be built outside the Cape Town stadium, where the party is holding its 103rd birthday rally. 

‘Mingle, network or relax’
“Guests can choose to mingle, network or just relax,” according to the gushing corporate pitch. “It is a vibrant mix of people, music, fine dining and pure celebrations.”

The packages on sale include exclusive VIP lounges, select liquor brands, and dedicated waiters and bar staff. But if you have a penchant for high-end single malts or other exotic and pricey liquor, you will have to pay for that yourself. 

Other perks include an air-conditioned marquee, in which guests can socialise and watch the live celebrations on giant screens.

“The African National Congress is exceptionally proud of its hospitality village and packages that we have to offer,” the pitch reads.

ANC president Jacob Zuma is expected to do a walkabout in the VIP lounge, where government ministers and business heavyweights will spend time networking.

“These events are created to both raise funds for the organisation as well as to be platforms for the organisation’s delegated members to engage with stakeholders,” Mkhize’s report said. 

Platform for business
The ANC has positioned the expo as a platform for businesses to present their services to “a broad array of ANC participants and the public in general”.

The Progressive Business Forum, an ANC-linked business association with about 6?000 subscribers, normally runs the VIP lounge. The forum was established to create “ongoing dialogue between the ANC and the business community”.

The ANC’s 2012 Mangaung congress at the University of the Free State hosted more than 120 companies, including the big four commercial banks.

Last week, City Press, quoting the ANC’s Western Cape secretary, Songezo Mjongile, reported that the combined price tag on places at Zuma’s 10-seater table at the gala dinner, which will be held the night before the rally, is R3-million.

Opposition parties have expressed serious misgivings about the ANC’s VIP networking lounge since it was first hosted at the party’s 2002 congress in Stellenbosch.

There, 11 of the 29 organisations that paid to exhibit were either national government departments or public entities, the Democratic Alliance said at that time. It is still not clear whether any state-owned enterprises will be involved this year.

Commitment to the Freedom Charter
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the January 8 message would focus on reviving the ANC’s commitment to the Freedom Charter. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the charter’s declaration in Kliptown, Soweto. 

Mantashe said some people had distorted parts of the charter for their own interests and that the ANC needed to set the record straight. 

“We will focus on its full implementation and highlight the progress we have made,” he said. 

The Economic Freedom Fighters used the ideals enshrined in the charter to draft its policies and election manifesto, which won the party 6% of the national vote in May last year.

Although the ANC claims that it is ready to show off its might next weekend, an organisational report presented by Mantashe to the November NEC meeting signals some panic in the upper echelons of the party.

“A lot of work needs to be done for the event to be a success,” Mantashe said in his report. “The DA-controlled metro council has publicly announced conditions for allowing the ANC to host the event at the Cape Town stadium.

“We should ensure this event succeeds. A show of strength will be vital in view of our preparation for the 2016 local government elections.”

January 8 statement not ready
Also running behind schedule was the real business of the day: the January 8 statement was not ready when the November NEC met “due to the failure of the policy subcommittee to meet,” Mantashe reported.

“This failure delays the drafting committee from starting its part of the work on the statement. The SGO [secretary general’s office] has encouraged the drafting team to put ideas together while waiting for the policy subcommittee to meet. An early draft will be useful to ensuring it is coherent and impactful.”

Because of the ANC’s poor record of timeously paying companies for services provided for past events, the City of Cape Town demanded an upfront payment of R2.2-million for the use of the stadium.

This includes hiring the venue, law enforcement, traffic management, cleaning and security for the event.

The ANC is at its weakest in the Western Cape, which is governed by the DA, and it will be relying on other provinces to send supporters to fill the 52 000-seater stadium.

Mjongile said the ANC’s provincial leadership had been mobilising people throughout the festive season to attend the celebrations.

“It is not only the Western Cape that has to mobilise. Other provinces are also coming to fill the stadium,” he said. 

NEC members are expected to land in Cape Town on Monday January 5 and they will be deployed throughout the province in a bid to try to woo people to attend the rally and support the ANC.

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice.
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