/ 22 September 2017

Better late than dead as NDZ enlivens funeral indaba

Dead matter: Jacob Zuma once swept Nkosazana off her feet
Dead matter: Jacob Zuma once swept Nkosazana off her feet


Tuesday evening. The Durban International Convention Centre’s Hall 5 is positively sombre. Funereal, even.

The overhead lights are off. There’s these elaborate silver candelabras sprouting from each table. There’s a muted a cappella choir on stage. Black cladding with silver studs on the walls. It’s all in all a rather appropriate setting for the National Funeral Indaba’s gala dinner.

I’m late. It doesn’t matter. The guest of honour, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is too. That’s one thing she clearly has in common with her ex-husband, President Jacob Zuma. That kind of thing rubs off, divorce or not. The only occasion I’ve ever seen the Time Bandit be punctual is during his court appearances. And his inauguration, of course.

Nobody’s doing anything until the guest of honour lands. No starter even, and people have been sitting here since 6.30pm. It’s about 8pm. I could have stuck around at home for a plate of beans and steamed jeqe bread. I’m starving. The centre’s food is notorious. Rubber chicken. Soggy bread rolls. Yellow lettuce. Maybe it will be better tonight, given Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential ambitions.

I grab a section of wall next to some cats from the intelligence community. Wait for my eyes to adjust to the low lighting. The tables are all packed. Lots of bespoke black suits. White shirts. Black shiny shoes. I guess that’s to be expected. There’s lots of frilly dresses and embroidered coats. Big hats. Hair from three continents. Money is clearly flowing in the funeral industry here in the kingdom.

There’s a crew of journalists standing up front next to the stage. Like deacons, as one of them puts it later. There’s no table for the vultures. There’s a row of chairs, but they’re facing the audience and not the podium. I stay put.

It’s a strange event for Dlamini-Zuma to be addressing. And one that gives rise to all sorts of wisecracks about the future of her campaign.

There’s an ANC election campaign going on, but these cats aren’t branch delegates. None of them will be going to conference in December. These people take you and bury you irrespective of your politics, so why should she even bother?

In KwaZulu-Natal the death industry is big money. Party election war chests need money. There’s also a national election coming in two years’ time, so this is an investment: time well spent. When the time comes, it will be the undertakers’ turn to cough up. If they haven’t been doing so already.

I start thinking about Dlamini-Zuma. What did she see in her ex-husband? How did he charm her? Was it his sense of humour? Did Nxamalala sing her Barry White songs? Did he sweep her off her feet on the dance floor?

Dlamini-Zuma’s a serious-minded person, so maybe it was politics — more of a comradely thing? I’ve always wanted to ask her. Maybe the chance will come.

My thoughts shift. What made Dlamini-Zuma dump Nxamalala’s ass? What move did the Timer pull on Dlamini-Zuma to make her mad enough to divorce him, knowing that he was going to become her lahnee in the near future? We know the old man can be faulty. He must have been properly out of order.

Dlamini-Zuma breezes in, ending a problematic train of thought. There are a few bodyguards and Carl Niehaus. Nothing over the top. Dlamini-Zuma’s in this shiny green number with a black cloak.

The speeches start. Here the Zuma name is a badge of honour, not the mark of the beast. The black undertaking industry wants in on the big money: insurance, government contracts, underwriting. Dlamini-Zuma’s the front woman for radical economic transformation. The industry’s behind her, provided that the contracts come.

Dlamini-Zuma takes the podium. She sounds like she has the flu. She always does.

Dlamini-Zuma’s tiny voice is deceptive. Her delivery is underwhelming, but her message is on point. You’ve built your businesses from nothing. You’ve gone as far as you can. The wit ous still own the economy. The wit ous get all the big contracts. I am radical economic transformation. Radical economic transformation will change all that. You know what to do.

The audience is lapping it up. This is what they’ve come to hear. They’re in the game. Dlamini-Zuma wraps up. The audience is on its feet. Their eyes are already counting the money. The table cost for the gala dinner is forgotten in an instant.

There’s something else she has in common with her ex, it seems.

I head home for beans and jeqe.