Tuesday. It’s freezing — by Durban standards, at least. The temperature is in the low teens and climbing. I’m bouncing from foot to foot, trying to generate some body heat, but in an hour’s time I’ll be more than warm enough.
The hospital workers heading past on their way to start work are dressed for a Siberian winter. Boots, woollen hats, scarves. Overcoats. Everybody’s head is down, heels hammering on the pavement. Leaning forward like they’re struggling to get home in the middle of a blizzard, or trudging uphill through knee-deep snow. Durban’s like that. Mention winter and the punters are already digging out the Alpine gear and the electric blankets.
A taxi pulls up. Ten minutes and R6 later, I’m outside City Hall. We don’t pass any Durban Transport buses on the way. They’re pretty scarce these days. The city gutted the municipal bus service under the guise of privatisation. Sold it to Remant Alton in 2003 for R70‑million. Bought it back five years later for R405‑million. Gave it to Transnat Durban, owned by former president Jacob Zuma’s nephew, Mandla Gcaba, to run in 2009. Now the city is taking over the service again after nearly a decade of bailouts to Transnat to keep the buses on the road. Perhaps the buses will be less scarce in future.
A shortcut past the post office and I’m outside the International Convention Centre (ICC), which was built on the site of the old Durban Central Prison. My bra Gary was one of the last prisoners to do time at Central. Gary wasn’t among the political detainees or remand prisoners held at Central, but one of the short-term prisoners sentenced for minor offences. Gary got six months for three pencils of dagga in 1984. That’s just about enough cannabis for a decent spliff, but Gary had a few suspended sentences and no money for lawyers, so he pulled six months.
Gary went to the army when he got out of jail. Central was closed down and replaced with Westville Prison. All that’s left of Central is a single wall, covered in a series of human rights murals, on the western side of the ICC complex, as a reminder of what once was.
The last time I saw Gary was outside the home of a merchant in Knight Road in Sydenham. Gary was on crutches. One of his “comrades” had shot him through the legs with an R4. Or an R1. I can’t remember which it was. Thankfully, Gary got out of the army — and the country — and has a life somewhere else today. Sons and stuff.
It’s quiet outside the ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial office in Stalwart Simelane Street. It’s been quiet at Pixley ka Seme House since the provincial leadership got booted out by the high court in December.
The provincial executive committee, led by chairperson Sihle Zikalala and secretary Super Zuma, were evicted after supporters of President Cyril Ramaphosa and former chairperson Senzo Mchunu asked for an eviction order. Mchunu’s supporters, led by Vryheid councillor Lawrence Dube, had earlier won a high court order setting aside the outcome of the November 2015 provincial conference at which Zikalala and Zuma, or #ZikaZuma as they were called by their supporters, were elected.
Since then, most of the briefings with the provincial task team appointed to oversee the rerunning of the provincial conference have been held off-site.
It’s only now, as the provincial conference is ready to go ahead at the University of Zululand at the weekend, that operations are under way at Seme House.
It’s just as quiet inside. None of the provincial ANC lahnees are around. They’ll be here on Thursday for the pre-conference briefing. For now, there’s a crew of ANC youngsters set up in the boardroom, capturing data and scanning photos for accreditation. The tags will only be handed out on Thursday. Or on-site at the university campus in Ongoye on Friday. Things are clearly still tense, despite the decision to go ahead.
There’s talk of a “unity” slate for the provincial conference involving leaders of both factions, but the discussions are fragile. It’s gonna be touch and go for the next 72 hours. Both sides are battling to deal with diehard elements unwilling to accept a consensus leadership. Bodies have been piling up in the party’s Moses Mabhida and Harry Gwala regions. There are nearly 50 complaints still to be resolved by the national dispute resolution committee about branch eligibility, so the credentials at the conference are likely to become the scene of a small war.
We’re done in minutes. I’m hardly out the door when the mobile goes. It’s my bra Oom Gov from Pietermaritzburg. Oom Gov’s enraged. The consensus slate is a sellout. The comrades are getting ready to go back to court to stop the conference.
I head for the Workshop and a mutton biryani from Orientals. Friday suddenly seems very far away.