?+¦-+?+¡Thunder rolls as I hit Bloemfontein. Raining big fat dollops of splashing water. The sky is grey, the earth wet and the city smells like an oxygen tent inhabited by Sophia Loren.
First stop on my jaunt to Mangaung for the ANC’s National Conference is Casa Van Zyl. Said Casa is inhabited by Jan, my second cousin, and his lovely Dorette. In wine circles they are possibly better known for being the parents of the Coco Chanel of South African wine-writing, one Jeanri-Tine van Zyl.
JT is not home, though, meeting some PR deadline as well as penning her popular wine commentary for Sarie Kos magazine. But the wine vibe is happening in Bloemfontein without JT, believe it or not. Dad Jan is a wine-lover of note. So the first evening is spent popping two MCC’s from Du Preez and De Wetshof Estate, getting pensive over a bottle of Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2004 and then ending off with a Nederburg Rhine Riesling Noble Late 2001.
Those thinking you go to Bloemfontein for triple Brandies and Cokes and Springbokkie shooters, think again.
Rising clear-headed and energised, I begin preparing for Mangaung’s Presidential Gala Dinner. De Wetshof Estate is the official wine supplier, so someone has to be on hand to ensure the wines are at the correct temperature, sans faults and available throughout the evening.
But first, to get into the venue.
Fortunately I decide to head-off three hours before the 19:00 start. Walk through the gates of the University towards the Callie Human Hall where the party is scheduled to rock. Almost make it when a cop stops me. ?+¦?+º?+¦You need one times registration badge, all the times available,?+¦?+º?+æ he informs me.
He was not the kind of guy you exchange ?+¦?+º?+¦but’s?+¦?+º?+æ with I think as he fingers his holstered pistol.
Back to the gate. Get sent to a registration hall. Wait in line. ?+¦?+º?+¦No, this is media registration. Gala Dinner registration is at the Technikon Campus.?+¦?+º?+æ
Driving distance. Find the Campus, downtown. ?+¦?+º?+¦Right Campus,?+¦?+º?+æ I am told. ?+¦?+º?+¦But registration is at the Art Hall Gate.?+¦?+º?+æ Walk about three kilometres, and spot the Gate. ?+¦?+º?+¦This is the exit Art Hall Gate. Proceed to entrance Art Hall Gate, please.?+¦?+º?+æ
Another two kilometres. I enter the campus. Find that this ANC swaying, dancing, heaving, singing, chanting is not reserved for the SABC TV screens but actually does exist. There are hundreds of comrades at it, going full-tilt. All kinds of T-shirts displaying pictures of Pres Zuma and an unflattering photo of the late Oliver Tambo where he looks like a toothless barman at the Klawer Hotel.
Registration. Some cool well-heeled dudes in-line with me. Dangling Porsche keys and questionable dress sense. Each Black Diamond has two or three bimbo’s in tow, bimbo’s who have discovered hair-straightener, skin-lightener and plastic surgery. The cleavage on display would have a Sandton kugel whack her cosmetic surgeon with a Vuitton bowling bag.
After registration and having procured said one times registration badge, I head back to the Campus where my adventure had started two hours ago. Outside the Callie Human Hall I find the De Wetshof wines being sniffed by a moth-eaten Alsatian by the name of Harnass. Harnass has to ensure none of the wine cases contain nuclear energy, explosives or hidden members of the Taliban.
The wines pass the test of Harnass. The guests start arriving and we all mingle outside in the fresh Bloemfontein dusk.
It is who’s who. Mathews Posa. Gwede Mantashe. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Naledi Pandor. Patrice Motsepe. I share a Coke Lite with Marthinus van Schalkwyk. We have a lot in common as we are white and originate from the Cape. ?+¦?+º?+¦Welcome Comrade!?+¦?+º?+æ he says.
Inside, dining space for 900 folk is laid. I am sent to the front of the hall. Joined by National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu and Peter Moyo, chairman of Vodacom.
Sisulu starts waxing lyrical about the beauty of the Cape Winelands. Moyo eyes the bottle of De Wetshof Naissance Cabernet Sauvignon on the table. ?+¦?+º?+¦Danie de Wet is more known for Chardonnay,?+¦?+º?+æ he says. ?+¦?+º?+¦But I see he is now making red.?+¦?+º?+æ While I fill our glasses with Limestone Hill Chardonnay, Moyo talks about his wine collection and the products he enjoys, Rust en Vrede among others.
?+¦?+º?+¦Max, the Rust en Vrede 1694 tastes like mother’s milk,?+¦?+º?+æ Moyo says to Sisulu.
?+¦?+º?+¦I wouldn’t know,?+¦?+º?+æ the Speaker says, ?+¦?+º?+¦I can’t remember that far back.?+¦?+º?+æ
Sisulu says Parliament does its thing for the wine industry. Has its own cellar. ?+¦?+º?+¦And whenever I host a foreign delegation, I see to it they leave our shores with a gift of South African wine. Especially the Chinese we should be exporting more wine to China.?+¦?+º?+æ
After the starter of salmon and bell pepper terrine, President Zuma takes to the stage to prepare the audience for the conference set to start the next day. He talks easily. No notes. Harps on the democracy of the ANC, the existence of the National Conference being one.
The wine is flowing at the presidential table for which those present had paid R50k a seat. But the President wasn’t partaking, preferring Coke Zero in a wine glass.
For mains we tuck into chicken and beef fillet, on the same plate. And by now the place is heaving. Taking their bottles of wine from the table, guests are working the room, circulating to chat, laugh, tell nostalgic tales about Robben Island, military training in the chilly Russian spring and where to buy Johnnie Walker Platinum in Bloemfontein.
I’ve done some political nobbing in the old South Africa, Britain and America, but for spirit and congeniality, our guys are in a class of their own.
Early morning Bloem. After the party. Heading home through the night. Still night. The thunder is gone.
But Africa rolls. And it rocks.