Paddy loses plot, and break­fast

The heat com­bines with bad choice of cloth­ing to ren­der colum­nist bereft of a co­gent story

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Paddy Harper

Wed­nes­day. 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

Nos­tal­gia: Me (Paddy Harper) and my friend Sipho Khu­malo, who died a year ago

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