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Hlaudi with scattered supporters : New Frame

Hlaudi with scattered supporters

Hlaudi Motsoeneng arrived late, in a very strange outfit, and didn’t make that much sense when addressing the members of his new African Content Movement party at its launch in Durban.

Curries Fountain football stadium in Durban has quite a history. In 1974 the Black People’s Convention (BPC) and the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) defied the apartheid state and organised a ‘Viva Frelimo’ rally in the stadium to celebrate independence in Mozambique. In 1985 Cosatu was launched in the stadium. In 2015 Abahlali baseMjondolo celebrated its tenth anniversary there.

On the morning of Saturday, 6 April, things were a little different. Row on neat row of plastic chairs sat empty on the waterlogged lawn, facing the vacant stage. Eventually, a few die-hard African Content Movement (ACM) members dribbled in, making a pathetic dent in the sea of chairs.

They had come from all over South Africa to launch the election manifesto of their glorious movement. A rather forlorn echo of Kevin Costner’s words from Field of Dreams sprang to mind: “Build it and they will come”.

Storm clouds mustered ominously throughout the day but party loyalists kept trickling in.

A cop observed that he and his kêrels outnumbered the ACM members. 

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6 April 2019: ACM supporters greeting party president Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

Big among the faithful

The ACM’s leader, the munificent and messianic Hlaudi Motsoeneng, has entered politics with all the confidence of Moses leading his followers out of Egypt. The disgraced former head of the SABC has a monumental ego, a habit of referring to himself in the third person and, during the inglorious reign of Jacob Zuma, was the President’s most ardent defender.

But while Motsoeneng is the subject of derision among the chattering classes, he was big among the faithful few at Curries Fountain.

Eager not to miss the fêted leader, a 9am arrival time, pen poised, seemed prudent. After mooching around for an hour boredom kicked in. A chicken curry pie from the nearby Bread Mill hit the spot. Those pies are legendary, like Motsoeneng.

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Then something happened. The ACM’s Krugersdorp contingent arrived. They spilled out of three combis, having left home in darkness. Motsoeneng, they promised, would arrive soon. The great man had reportedly refused to leave Joburg until everyone had a ride.

The Krugersdorp lot scored their goodie bags and munched on apples and bananas. They loitered on the fringes seeming to shrink from the 1 875 empty white chairs on the field. The stadium stand was about 90% empty, too.

Standing sentinel around the venue were 40 portable lavatories – neat and impressive – plus big screen televisions on stage and legions of private security guards. It must have cost a whack.

Just as I was about to ask who was covering the cost of the event, a couple sneaked past a cordon into a fancy VIP tent set up for 200 lahnees who were yet to arrive. They were a plucky pair, those Krugersdorp gals.

‘We want a change’

Chanel Joubert is a 32-year-old housewife and ACM election candidate. Her BFF and right hand is Brenda Williams. They both had their hair done for the day, and their nails at a place where a maestro studs each index finger with a trio of stars.

“He’s got such inner peace,” Joubert gushed. Maybe she hadn’t heard about his legendary tantrums at the SABC.

“We want a change”, she opined. “We are a newborn party with no history.”

She had a point. I noted that Hlaudi, however, does have a history.

Williams agreed. “Yes, we did hear about that, but we don’t work on assumptions. And Hlaudi also wants to start afresh.”

I didn’t want to be a Debbie downer so I cut that line of inquiry. Maybe we are a bit fixated by this education thing. Motsoeneng scaled impossible heights having started life as a lowly hack like me, even though he fibbed about not having a matric. And look at how DA chief whip John Steenhuisen has winged it with just a matric.

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6 April 2019: Motsoeneng greeting ACM supporters at the launch of the party’s election manifesto at Curries Fountain in Durban.

SABC delay

The proceedings started gathering momentum. There was back-slapping, high-fiving and jiving, and, mercifully, a few chairs were filled.

You’ve got to love a political rally. Any kind of crescendo after hours of mind-numbingly dull waiting is always welcome.

Word arrived that Motsoeneng wasn’t, as his disciples had suggested, held up ushering comrades on to buses. He was directing lawyers, who were in the high court demanding that the SABC broadcast his gig. He lost. His party was starting to acquire a little history.

Williams and Joubert were inured by the delay. “It’s out with the old and in with the new,” Joubert chirped merrily.

A man identified only as Apostle arrived, hustling for a T-shirt. Apostle was from the Vaal, but had travelled to Durban via Bloemfontein and then caught the bus to the Durban Station. It set him back 500 bucks. Money well spent, the 68-year-old declared.

“I want change in my country. Nelson Mandela looked for change for decades and he never gave up. Winston Churchill, too.” This solicited affirming clucks from the ACM cadres around us. “They wanted change at a ripe age, so why not me?”

Back to the T-shirt. When you get it, just call for Apostle, he yelled. “I am the only one here.”

I had to smile. Everyone I met was an apostle, for Motsoeneng.

Tired of ANC platitudes

Lesogo Morake, 31, is an LGBTQIA+ activist who grew up in the ANC but got tired of the party’s platitudes. Motsoeneng, she said, is different.

“He is going to change this country. He is not the kind of president to sit on the stage with his boys and do nothing. He likes to do things. Look at the logo of the party, it says the future is in our hands, not just Hlaudi’s.”

Morake was sincere and likeable, even when she got a bit breathless singing Motsoeneng’s praises. “He is gonna look after us, he is our father.”

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William Mthethwa, a sound engineer and choral music enthusiast, stood outside the stadium where an enterprising vendor flogged ACM berets, caps and shirts at R200 a pop.

Mthethwa shook his head and damned the ANC. “Ha!” he declared, referring to evidence at the Zondo Commission. It proved what crooks they were. After a short pause, he broke into a gospel song.

But now there were artists on stage, their music pumping across Berea from monster speakers.

They drowned Mthethwa out. Cma Da Boss Lady belted out No More Babe. She was working hard for her money. It started to feel more like a wannabe music festival than a failed political rally.

‘Roar, young lions. Roar!’

Harried officials bustling this way and that, jabbering earnestly into their cellphones, heightened the excitement.

The master of ceremonies happily appropriated ANC slogans. “Amandla,” he bellowed. “Awethu,” the small crowd responded. “Long live ACM, long live!” and “Roar, young lions. Roar!” followed. It felt like a cheap remake of a movie that people had once cared about.

There was more talk of Motsoeneng’s arrival. The president would be there soon, in 15 minutes, speakers vowed. He wasn’t, of course. Standing in a queue to score a free T-shirt killed some time.

Gratifyingly, the ones being dished out featured Motsoeneng’s mug against a black background, unlike the ones the officials were wearing. Their shirts were a disconcerting Catholic purple, the colour of Lent vestments, which made me feel vaguely guilty.

That Motsoeneng’s arrival was imminent became apparent when ACM secretary general Romeo Ramuada strode past. He is every bit the dashing revolutionary, wears a beret better than Che and makes the EFF’s bae, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, look pedestrian.

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6 April 2019: Party president Hlaudi Motsoeneng (centre) on stage during the ACM’s election manifesto launch. While we welcome our African neighbours, the jobs are ours, he said.

Dubious wardrobe choice

The comrades on stage worked the crowd. Droplets of sweat formed. The president would arrive soon! My heart beat faster. The masses surged and Motsoeneng materialised, and not in a cavalcade of squealing tyres. No, he marched in wearing a purple onesie.

He looked ridiculous. The beefy bodyguards in suits and the gaggle of giddy party officials swarming around him showed no sense of embarrassment though. There was whistling, shouting and screaming. Motsoeneng did a victory lap.

When everyone had calmed down, the bishop appointed to invoke the Holy Spirit couldn’t be found. The emcee called out for another pastor, any pastor. They just needed a blessing.

A lady in ACM regalia stepped forward and called on the Lord. A few flunkeys followed, offering more stirring slogans, and then a Pedi praise singer droned on and, finally, Motsoeneng spoke.

It was more of a squeak, actually. Hardly the commanding presence the day had foretold.

Motsoeneng said something about every manufacturer in South Africa being owned by a South African. The ACM “doesn’t know English” he said. Local is lekker, he added. And while we welcome our African neighbours, the jobs are ours.

Thus spake Motsoeneng.

The afternoon sun was setting. The faithful headed home.

It was not Curries Fountain’s finest hour.

But, driving into the gloaming, a little thought bubbled up and proved hard to dislodge – in the beginning everyone thought that the political aspirations of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro were a joke.

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