The ANC is in Kimberley, the spiritual home of Sol Plaatje, this weekend to deliver its January 8 address. It’s an important moment, presaging what the president of the party who also happens to be the president of the country will say at the State of the Nation Address next month when he opens Parliament.
But January 8 is also a time to party for the party. In recent years, the entire week has been a jol more akin to a university rag week as the A-listers rub shoulders with the Z-listers, while the slay queens and the tenderpreneurs compete with the roar of the obligatory squadron of Harley Davidsons to be noticed.
In fact, Northern Cape MEC of Economic Development, Maruping Lekwene, made headlines for all the wrong reasons in December when his department issued a notice allowing the 24-hour sale of liquor for this entire week. As anyone who has ever lived in Kimberley will tell you, no one needs to be encouraged to drink for 24 hours a day. It’s always been a haven for hard drinkers ever since they were hewing diamonds out of the Colesberg Kopje to create the Big Hole.
Lekwene’s decision was hastily rescinded but even so, it seemed to speak volumes about how either the ANC views holding the January 8 statement in Kimberley or more pertinently how its Northern Cape cadres feel about the need for sustenance when they host the worthies from Luthuli House.
Many deals will have been hammered out in speak-easys by many people getting hammered in and around the City of Diamonds well into the wee hours this week, such is the tenor of the birthday celebrations; but there will also have been the obligatory photocalls for the leadership to honour party history, notably Plaatje’s grave in West End cemetery – which has already been the site of an unseemly family spat this week.
Plaatje was a remarkable man – then and even moreso now. Known for his unflinching polemic on the Native Land Act with the immortal opening lines (itals) Awakening on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually, a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth (unitals); he was a linguist nonpareil, a writer, author, novelist playwright and perhaps the most syndicated newspaper columnist of his day. His stature was such that he was assiduously airbrushed from history after his death and Kimberley’s done well to honour him properly, but what’s also been forgotten is that he was also a lifelong advocate for the temperance movement, an implacable foe of the demon drink.
Today though, as President Cyril Ramaphosa prepares to deliver his January 8 statement, he might find that a stiff tot wouldn’t go amiss as he prepares us for the year; a last Mardi Gras before Moody’s puts the boot in, on top of the load shedding, state capture and indeed the identity politicians in his own party that often seem hell bent on rendering a helluva lot of other South Africans pariahs in the land of their birth.
Originally published on 11 January 2020 in the Saturday Star