The first World Festival of Youth and Students to be held in South Africa was reminiscent, in many ways, of a beer festival.
Swarms of youth drifted around aimlessly or sheltered under stands at the Tshwane Event Centre to get out of the rain, while young men of all nationalities winked, whistled or simply stared as pretty girls walked past.
On Wednesday, most delegates managed to stay off the booze until after the day’s official programme, but after 5pm, a number of people were seen walking around with bottles of beer.
Not solely a Communist event
Upon entering the grounds, guests and delegates received a copy of the Festival News. Two photographs graced the front page — one of National Youth Development Agency chairperson Andile Lungisa, and another of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro — both of whom shared their thoughts with readers. The rest of the publication contained messages from delegates from Western Sahara, Zimbabwe and the Worker’s Party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Organisers said however the festival was not solely a Communist event.
Still, countless delegates sported red shirts and Communist caps, while a number of outfits displayed slogans such as “Viva La Revolution”. Some delegates wore traditional Vietnamese hats in the downpour. One volunteer said the hats were “cool” and cost only R20 a pop.
A Wimpy restaurant was filled to capacity with delegates wolfing down burgers and chips and there was a perpetual queue at a nearby Nando’s kiosk.
Festival organisers also provided rice and stew in polystyrene containers as well as little plastic forks.
Hundreds of condoms were laid out on a table in one of the conference halls, which delegates swiftly pocketed.
A “friendship fair”, buzzing with people, was held in a separate building at the event centre, where delegates set up stalls displaying their views on the conference’s theme, “Let’s defeat imperialism for a world of peace, solidarity and social transformation”.
South Africa’s Department of Health had a plush stall with two large couches and a coffee table, along with information booklets.
Loud music blared from the DPRK’s stand, which included a large framed portrait of leader Kim Jong-il in a black tunic. The North Korean delegates also danced with curious visitors.
At the end of day three, youth and students may have been wet and muddied but many remained in high spirits.