RIDING WITH BIG WHEELS
The ANC will be motoring to Mangaung in style next month - a far cry from the way delegates went to their first conference in 1912.
For the election of John Dube as first president of the then South African Native National Congress, the transport to Bloemfontein included going on foot, bicycle, horseback and ox wagon.
When President Jacob Zuma bids for a second term at the elective conference that celebrates a century of the ANC, the organisation's top brass will rock up in the most expensive and luxurious modern-day machinery reflecting their status as the ruling party.
In the car park, one can expect to find, as seen at the number of pre-conference gatherings, a collection to make any party green with envy. Green cars don't count by the way.
The ANC of 2012 does not move at the snail's pace of the party that was born in 1912. Nobody walks anymore - back then, it was the only mode of transport for members who did not enjoy the support of business as it does now.
The ox wagon has long been replaced as a means of transport, and although the rickshaw is still used in Durban, it is only for tourists on the beach front where Zuma once rode as MEC in charge of economics and tourism in KwaZulu-Natal.
From riding around in a rickshaw and being dined in those days at the sadly defunct Saagries at the Coastlands, Zuma is now riding in the country's hot seat in an armoured BMW 7 Series and if the mood dictates, he has the choice of a stately Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Given the understandable security concerns around Zuma, the president never rolls alone. His presidential motorcade for Mangaung consists of a Mercedes-Benz G-Class, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, Range Rover and Mercedes Benz ML-Class models. Indeed, Zuma will never walk alone.
Umshini wami may have not been a global hit for Zuma but it ensured that he gets a motorcade far bigger than rapper Jay Z can dream of. Expect to find Zuma's beefy entourage to be followed by several more Mercedes-Benz S-Class vehicles and police cars.
If only he could sing, because of his lavish lifestyle, many wives and girlfriends, the president would easily pass as a rap star.
But he's got his eye on Mangaung and a second term.
Former acting President Kgalema Motlanthe also has his eye on Mangaung. Motlanthe has already been at the wheel steering the country - after Thabo Mbeki was dumped. He has experience in driving South Africa; and if the forces of change push for him to take the steering wheel away from Zuma, Motlanthe may finally get the opportunity to choose his own wheels.
For now, he will move around Mangaung in similar armoured BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class cars as Zuma. Certainly, it's a case of not out-driving the Emperor of Nkandla.
Motlanthe is someone who seemingly sits on the fence, steering sedately and smartly, so don't expect him to go crazy and get something funky if he should triumph.
Perhaps taking over the mantle of the presidency might draw him out of his shell and, who knows, he might be South Africa's first head of state to go topless?
The funkiest wheels belong to the wealthy ANC benefactors queuing up to schmooze the next generation of leaders. Wealthy Durban business Vivian Reddy will be at the top of the list with his Bentley and an assortment of expensive cars.
The top brass and their many other business backers will also have their eyes on the rich rewards for being in the right place.
They will go to Mangaung in their flashy cars to make a statement. The business of cars is not just about getting around.
Expect to see a number of beasts that will turn heads. In June when the ANC held its policy conference in Midrand, the car park was not unlike the scene that would greet you with the line-up at a place like Investment Cars.
The list featured Audis and Beemers, a Mercedes SLK, an imported Maserati said to cost more than R1.5m and a number of silver dream machines on two wheels, including a Harley-Davidson.
Indeed, it was a far cry from the dusty days of 1912. The roar of the Harley, the excess of the Maserati and the splendour of the SLK, among other beauties on show, reflect little understanding of the struggle the founders of the organisation faced, to get to elective conferences when transport modes were limited. Will the drivers and passengers of the Audi and Mercedes-Benz vehicles carrying the number plates ANC100-ZN spare a thought for those who walked on foot to exercise their right to choose leaders.
That is unlikely, as Minister of Planning, Trevor Manuel, riding in his R1.2-million BMW, was once criticised for this excessive purchase because as Finance Minister he used to tell the nation to show a "greater sense of responsibility" when making such purchases.
Manuel kitted out his toy, paid for by taxpayers, with accessories worth more than R100000; and he is not alone.
The government spent more than R42-million in 2009 on new cars for politicians.
Communist Party leader and Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande also boarded the gravy train confirming an oft expressed truth that communists, too are human and have luxurious tastes - as long as someone else is paying.
Reacting to Following Cosatu criticism, Nzimande expressed regret about his purchase - but he never got rid of it.
Government ministers are not doing anything wrong; it is, after all, in the rule book that ministers are entitled to a state-purchased car of a value equivalent to 70% of their annual salary. This equates to roughly R929000. Not everyone went wild like a spoilt rotten greedy child in a candy store. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan won praise from Cosatu for his purchase of a "modest" Lexus for R557673 and an Audi A8 for R590500.
But former trade union leader Rejoice Mabudafhasi, the Deputy Minister of Water and Environment Affairs, showed some restraint only when it came to the extras.
Her BMW cost R900000 and came with optional extras to the value of R12700. These included a sports leather steering wheel, extended light package and a tow-bar with removable head.
How modest is that?
Former Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda cost taxpayers more than R1-million for his luxury Beemer.
None of the politicians lost any sleep amid growing outrage over what some termed "bling" vehicles.
As the march to Mangaung gathers speed, one must remember that it would have taken days, in fact, weeks to get to Bloemfontein from other parts of the country in 1912.
The party of Dube and subsequent presidents faced further hardships in the form of prejudice and harassment from the rulers at the time. But the party endured, triumphed in 1994, and will be motor to Mangaung in 2012 in the most expensive, sportiest wheels without even a thought for those who walked and rode in ox wagons. Fasten your seatbelts!