There’s a hush in Pixley ka Seme

Wednesday. It’s column day. I’m standing outside Pixley ka Isaka Seme House, the ANC’s provincial office in Durban. It used to house the Durban business chamber. They moved out. 

The sun’s bouncing off the tarmac, scorching my skin. I’m cursing my decision to swap flip-flops for my black suede Pumas. Closed shoes are a stupid idea in this city during summer.

The barrage of light has been equally brutal in its treatment of the two-storey mural of Daddy across the road from me. The mural’s been up on the wall of the provincial office since the 2016 local government election campaign. I’m not sure why it’s still there. I would have taken it down long ago.

The image of Daddy exhorting the voters to make their cross for khongi (congress) is faded. Tarnished. Daddy’s trademark grin has a tired, artificial look about it. There’s an element of rictus to it. Not pretty.

The paint’s peeling on the right-hand side of the mural. Crumbling. Kinda like the off-the-books empire Daddy built in his two terms as president of the governing party and the republic.

The sun has been even harsher on the ANC logo. It’s located to the right of the homage to Daddy. It’s somewhat lower than Daddy’s smirking visage. Close to the street. As if it’s trying to turn the corner. Get away from him.

The logo’s scorched. The spear, shield and fist are washed out. The black, green and gold of the ANC flag is approaching invisibility. It is as if somebody threw bleach on it in a failed bid to get it off the wall.

I’m not here for an ANC provincial gig. I have stopped for inspiration — and to get out of the sun — on my way from the International Convention Centre to the taxi rank.

The leadership got booted out of the office by the high court in Pietermaritzburg last year. It seems like a century ago. The whole provincial ANC squabble has been blown away by the political whirlwind that has been sweeping South Africa since Nasrec. Forgotten. Irrelevant.

According to the provincial leadership, they never left. If you listen to the cats who took secretary Super Zuma and chairperson Sihle Zikalala to court and won, they did.

The previous day, ANC secretary general Ace Magashule had met both the ANC factions in the province to appoint the provincial task team at the Coastlands conference centre at the beach end of Pixley ka Seme Street, as West Street is now known. Maybe Ace got lost and thought Pixley ka Seme House was Pixley ka Seme Street and went there instead of the office. Maybe Ace didn’t get lost and wanted to hold the meeting on neutral ground. Who knows?

I don’t know. I didn’t ask Ace when we finally got to chat on Tuesday night.

Either way it doesn’t look like anybody is home.

There’s no blue-and-white metro police cones. No flotilla of state and media vehicles in the ticket-free zone.

There’s a single undercover white crime intelligence Toyota Corolla with standard-issue tinted windows. No phalanx of bored bodyguards shelaring the students walking past the office from Unisa on their way to the Workshop shopping centre. No restless camera crews waiting in vain for a briefing with Super to start. Dololo.

The last time I was in Pixley House was just before the national conference in December. Super was still in his office. The mural didn’t look that faded, even if it was a little more than a month ago.

The place was swarming with cats in Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma caps. Boxes and boxes of pamphlets. Bakkie loads of NDZ gear. T-shirts by the bale. The comrades from here were acting like they were fighting a national election against the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, not an internal change of leadership in Africa’s oldest liberation movement. No wonder they lost. I wonder what’s gonna happen to all that stuff now? And them.

On my last visit, I had made my way up the stairs to collect my accreditation for one of the OR Tambo memorial events that had been turned into NDZ election rallies. As I had hit the top step, the one comrade greeted me, even though I didn’t know him from a bar of soap.

“‘Comrade Carl, where are you going?’’ the comrade shouted. I froze. The comrade thought I’m Carl Niehaus, Dlamini-Zuma’s Albatross Number One. I had been mistaken for Barker Haines and David Genaro before, even Bob Hoskins once, but never Conman Carl.

I had restrained the urge to smash the comrade’s Adam’s apple with my elbow. Ram his face into the glass door. The comrade was way younger than me. And bigger. The comrade was also playing a home fixture. His bras would have kicked me to death.

I found my sense of humour. Started giggling. All white people do look the same.

I got into my new role. Camped it up a bit. Did what Conman Carl would do. Lied. With a straight face.

“Nxamalala, Comrade, to see uBaba. I’ll be back tomorrow,” I had bellowed, running up the stairs, shaking with laughter.

I gather myself and head for the rank.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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