Today is the launch of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal’s countdown watch for the May 8 national and provincial elections. I should be at Pixley ka Seme House in Durban’s Stalwart Simelane Street, the governing party’s provincial headquarters, watching the chairperson, Sihle Zikalala, unveil the countdown clock, if that’s what it’s called, that will mark the passage of time until voting day. A cheesy gig, yes, but very much part of the build-up to the elections. The ANC office is also a less-than-10-minute walk from North Beach, which greatly improves the attractiveness of the job.
I’m not there.
Instead, I’m part of a medium-sized media horde standing outside the Umzimkhulu magistrate’s court, waiting for the ANC’s number three on its provincial list, Harry Gwala district municipality mayor Mluleki Ndobe, to appear in court after being arrested over the weekend for the murder of former ANC Youth League secretary general and Umzimkhulu ANC councillor Sindiso Magaqa.
The irony of this is not lost on me, or on JahNoDead, who is down in the Kingdom for a couple of weeks and who has given me a lift to Umzimkhulu. The entire media contingent that should have been at the launch is here.
We’ve arrived with spare shirts, toothbrushes and a seven-day supply of weapons-grade cannabis just in case Ndobe and his co-accused go straight into their bail application and we have to stay overnight.
It’s not likely: the current total of four accused were arrested on different dates, so they need to be joined in court before any bail application can take place. They’re also charged with premeditated murder, a schedule six offence, which means they have to present the court with proof of exceptional circumstances if they want to get bail. Some of the accused got lawyers this morning, so there’s no way they’ll be ready to proceed today. The most likely outcome is a quick appearance to join them and a remand until Monday, with the Human Rights Day long weekend coming.
Then again, one never knows.
We clock KwaDukuza municipality mayor Ricardo Mthembu at the gate. Mthembu’s a bit far from his North Coast municipality, about three and a half hours away. Perhaps Mthembu got lost on his way to Durban for the ANC clock launch. Overshot the runway.
The blue wall in front of the court parts and lets us through. There are cops everywhere: they almost outnumber the pro- and anti-Ndobe supporters, both sides in ANC T-shirts, who have gathered outside for the hearing.
The cops definitely outnumber the four United Democratic Movement members and the small crowd of blue-shirted Democratic Alliance members who have decided to use the court day for a bit of electioneering, as well as the lone cat in an Economic Freedom Fighters T-shirt and beret.
An hour or so later a white Ford speeds through the police cordon, blue light flashing, and through the main gate. It circuits the court building and ends up in a laager of parked police cars. It’s Ndobe, with a team of National Intervention Unit minders, who clearly want to keep the cameras out of his face.
Ndobe remains seated in the back of the Ford. The cats with the overalls and machine pistols make sure the cameras keep a respectable distance.
There’s no rush to take Ndobe inside. From my own experience, the Ford will smell way better than the court grill. The Umzimkhulu one was packed with whoonga laaities begging for cigarettes when we did a recon on arrival, so I guess they don’t want to put the lahnee in with them. The privileges of public office remain, it seems, unaffected by murder and attempted murder charges.
More time passes. I’m starving. The early start meant no breakfast. Ndobe’s minders are busy with their skaftins. I’m about to ask them for some when they whisk him towards the courtroom.
My hunger disappears.
The cops at the door turn us away. The courtroom is tiny. Court management has allocated six seats to the media, 60 to Ndobe’s supporters and Mgaqa’s family.
We end up in magistrate Riaz Essack’s office. All 23 of us.
Essack has a dilemma. This is a small town, in which Ndobe is a big fish, so he has to accommodate the local lahnees. At the same time, he’ll have a shit storm of bad publicity on his hands if he bars so many representatives from the national media.
We suggest a compromise: we’ll sit on the floor. Sanity prevails, we head inside.
Five minutes later we’re hauled out again and troop back to Essack’s office. We heard him wrong: the cops say we can’t sit on the floor.
Things get a little ugly from our side, with some of the cats losing it badly.
It works. A few minutes later and we’re back inside, sitting on the floor. Somebody lends me a camp stool, so I’m smiling.
Ten minutes and we’re done. It’s gone as predicted: a remand until Monday for a two-day bail application.
We head outside.
I’m starving again.