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Paddy loses plot, and breakfast


I’m awake and moving earlier than usual. By 4am, I’m already coffeed and showered and powering up the laptop.

Despite the early start and the pile of copy ahead, I’m grinning like a Patagonian toothfish.

For a start, I’m alive, which isn’t a bad result given my track record over the years.

Second, it’s payday, so I’ll have a roof over my head for the next month and money for a couple of days, like a good wage slave. There’s enough to cover the debit orders and feed the cat, so I’m cool.

More importantly, there’s one set of deadlines, two stories, a column and a visit to the ANC provincial office for a briefing on the Moerane commission’s damp squib of a report to deal with, and then my two weeks’ leave kicks off.

Two full weeks free of deadlines, politics, politicians and other dodgy punters. No anxiety-driven deadline dreams, no bottlenecks of built-up copy, no having to get into war mode with somebody whose salary my taxes are helping to pay.


Out of nowhere, a sense of being unsettled, of things not being right, almost of dread, hits me.I take a walk into the garden. It’s still dark. Silent. There are no birds out yet.

I realise what’s been nagging me. It’s a year to the day since my friend Sipho Khumalo died.

It’s tough. Mashobane, as we all called him, was a seemingly indestructible cat, not somebody I ever imagined as being capable of dying, despite having shared a good few life-threatening moments with him.

I didn’t make it to his tombstone unveiling a month or so ago and a sense of guilt has pervaded since.

There’s a TV crew practising their lines outside in the blazing Durban sun as I approach Pixley ka Seme House, the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial headquarters.

I’m late, but early, it seems.

The flotilla of media and ANC security vehicles that are normally parked outside when the governing party’s provincial leadership calls media briefings is absent. There are no bodyguards leaning against their cars, harassing female Unisa students passing the office. No metro police cones demarcating their parking area, which cuts the road between Seme House and the International Convention Centre in half.

That said, it’s still much busier than it was in the months before the ANC’s elective national conference last December, and for the first half of this year, when the province was run by a task team appointed in the wake of the November 2015 provincial conference outcome being set aside.

I stagger inside.

I’m not feeling too good. A few days of intense heat following the deluge over the long weekend has turned Durban into an open-air steam room. I haven’t eaten all day. I’ve had no appetite.

Stupidly, I’ve overdressed, swapping my shorts and slops for trousers, closed shoes and, dumbest choice of all, a heavy cord jacket. The back seat of the geriatric taxi into town was airless and I’m soaked in sweat from my walk from the centre of town to Seme. I’m badly dehydrated. The room’s starting to swim.

I hit the boardroom. It’s empty. The room’s been set up, with lots of black, green and gold and a lovely big picture of President Cyril Ramaphosa, but nobody’s home.

I start to lose what’s left of my cool.

The ANC in the province isn’t known for being prompt, even though new secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli is way more punctual than his predecessor, Super Zuma. I’m in no shape — or mood — for an hour’s wait.

I check the time. It’s 11.15am.

I’m not late, I’m nearly an hour early.The gig kicks off at 12.

I hit the door. There’s a takeaway next door. I can get some water.

As I turn the corner I start retching and hurl what little is in my stomach into the street. I grab a parked car to get my balance while I wait for the sky to stop spinning. My face is running with sweat as I use my jacket sleeve to try and wipe it away.

A passing Unisa student looks at me like I’m drunk, shakes her head and crosses the street to give me as wide a berth as possible.

I haul out my phone to summon an Uber. I’ve had enough of this for one day.

I’m going home. Moerane can wait.

I check the time.
It’s 11.15am.

I’m not late, I’m nearly an hour early. The gig kicks off at 12.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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