That is not why they pay substantial sums of money for such stands, exhibitors say at every similar event. But in Polokwane, in Durban and again in Midrand this week the pattern has remained the same: stalls left unmanned during much of the day or with low-level representatives in attendance are suddenly a-swarm with executives in suits when the president comes for his walkabout.
In the middle of a tense and intense conference, it is an opportunity for a little fun guessing, because nothing profound or important will be said as photographers swarm around.
Will Zuma joke about expropriating the Agri SA stall? (He did not.) Will Nedbank offer him a copy of its latest annual report? (It did not.) Will Vodacom offer him a better gift than Cell C? (Neither came up with anything good.) How much is the ANC medallion-encrusted gift from the official gold suppliers he receives worth? (The supplier will not say, but its best piece is worth R300 000.) Will Absa chief Maria Ramos talk to him about the “second transition”? (She did not.)
It is always a nightmare for the president’s close security team. And one has to wonder whether Zuma, beneath the wide smile and the willingness to pose for photographs, considers this an optimal use of his time while a leadership battle bubbles under the surface.
But exhibitors ranging from Emirates Airline to a little-known security company all got to shake his hand and more than one was left breathless by the experience.
Coining it in the name of fame and history
Just a few metres past the entrance of the exhibitors’ lounge, Nelson Mandela smiled joyfully from a kilogramme of gold. This gold coin, placed in a carved wooden holder, would cost visitors about R700 000. Of the 100 made, seven had sold since they became available last week.
The Freedom Charter, framed in gold, was the most eye-catching of the merchandise. The piece of work – with its words of succour for the poor and downtrodden adopted almost exactly 57 years go – sold for R28 000 a pop.
Outside the venue, the ordinary and often rural – vendors who were not part of the ANC’s “progressive business forum” continued to sell ANC merchandise under the sun.
Daryl Swanepoel, national co-ordinator of the forum, said it focused on building a relationship with private business and the government.
“The money from these exhibits do go to the costs of this conference. Ultimately, we do raise funds for the ANC. The fact that MTN is not here, whereas Cell C and Vodacom are, has nothing to do with anything. Except, we have a policy that state-owned companies are not allowed to exhibit here.” – Aneesa Fazel