All aboard for Polokwane conference

The first group of delegates to the African National Congress’s 52nd national conference arrived at the University of Limpopo on Sunday. Singing and clapping, the delegates from the North West Province said they would vote for party president Thabo Mbeki.

“Mbeki is the most rational leader, we have ever had.
We are just here to affirm the third term [for Mbeki],” said a delegate, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Gauteng delegate Smangaliso Mkhatshwa was chauffeured to the walkway leading up to the plenary tent in a Volvo. His bodyguard eyed reporters suspiciously.

“It’s a very exciting day and I see everything is under control,” said Mkhatshwa.

Outside the university, police were pulling over cars and searching for firearms.

On the university grounds, police officers and sniffer dogs were searching the tents and peering into rubbish bins.

Inside the plenary tent, thousands of bottles of water stood on desks next to microphones and headphones.

ANC staff member Nicholas Wolpe was dashing around the tent making last-minute preparations.

He said the preparations had “surprisingly”, run extremely smoothly.

“There were a few technical problems relating to accreditation which caused a bit of a backlog last night [Saturday].”

He said the 5 000 seats in the tent had had to be reduced by 400 due to health and safety regulations.

Wolpe said another tent had been set up to accommodate those who would not be able to find seats in the main tent.

Wolpe praised the quality of the food in the canteens.

“The quality is better than you get in some restaurants. It’s very good, I actually had two helpings.”

He said about 15 000 meals would be served every day and there were 400 000 bottles of water to refresh thirsty delegates.

The stars-to-be of the show, President Thabo Mbeki and ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, did not put in an appearance on Satuday, and their accreditation was picked up by their security officers. The two front-runners in the race for the ANC presidency were meeting international guests a dinner at Polokwane’s Meropa Casino on Saturday evening, the eve of the official opening of the conference.

Fit to rule

The ANC has banned the wearing of factional T-shirts and other clothing at the conference venue but the registration hangar was a free-for-all for groups supporting either Mbeki or Zuma. Fans of the latter wore T-shirts reading “100% JZ” and “Fit to rule”—a stab at Ronald Suresh Roberts’s biographical book Fit to Govern: The Native Intelligence of Thabo Mbeki.

Songs in support of Zuma or Mbeki rang out periodically—including Zuma’s trademark Umshini Wami—with singers holding up placards bearing the face of their preferred candidate. Not even a sudden downpour could put an end to the demonstrations.

An array of ambulances stood ready to one side, though nothing more serious than an allergic reaction and forgotten medication was reported.

Also spotted at registration on Saturday were National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, who has been nominated for the post of party deputy secretary general; Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu; and ANC Women’s League deputy president Mavivi Myakayaka-Manzini. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who has tried to mediate between Zuma and Mbeki, was expected later on Saturday.

Earlier, Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was both cheered and booed when she entered the registration venue along with her Cabinet colleague Sydney Mufamadi. Dlamini-Zuma, who professes neutrality in the leadership race, is the Mbeki camp’s nominee for the post of deputy president of the party. The cheers and whistles came from Mbeki supporters; the boos from the Zuma camp.

The same treatment was meted out to Mlambo-Ngcuka and Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool. The deputy president, upon leaving the registration hangar, looked away from the group of ANC supporters that was booing her and, when seeing a group that supported her, waved at them.

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