What an opportunity. Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president of the ANC, was holding a dialogue with the youth of Polokwane.
I was working as an intern for Talk Radio 702 and Eyewitness News during the week and for my last day of work, was paired with EWN’s Govan Whittles to cover the event. For a young journalist like me, it was a rare opportunity to meet the man and I could not have been more excited.
We set off at around nine in the morning from the EWN offices and arrived at around twelve o’clock at Peter Mokaba Stadium – the venue for the conference – expecting things to start at one o’clock. As we arrived however, we found out there was a delay and we would in fact have to wait another hour.
We decided to go inside and wait and found ourselves ushered into a lavish conference room plush with velvet furniture and carpeting and what I think was jazz or blues music playing in the background. It felt like a gentlemen’s club rather than a gathering for the youth, and was the first alarm bell, warning that the point of the conference may have been missed.
The next one rang at half past two, when Mr Ramaphosa had still not arrived. What’s worse was that the youths, the subjects of the meeting, only started arriving at that point. It was startling that they seemed to believe they did not have to arrive on time, ostensibly because the politician certainly would not. There was no communication from the organisers, so we just waited.
That would become the pattern of the entire day. We waited and waited and waited. The only change that afternoon came from being asked to leave the room while security did a bomb sweep. When we tried to come back in we were told we needed to produce media tags, which was a funny thing because we hadn’t been issued with any on our arrival. It only got worse from there.
The waiting continued as four ‘o clock, then five ‘o clock passed by. It reached the point where we broke for lunch without anything actually having happened yet. The growing audience started singing struggle songs and dancing. That was all very well and good, but it was late afternoon and the meeting was nowhere near started, and I somehow felt they should all be a lot more annoyed than they were.
More importantly, this did not feel at all like a youth dialogue. Most of the people I saw there were over the age of thirty-five and pretty much all of them seemed to be ANC supporters. Was this supposed to be a dialogue for the youth of Polokwane, I wondered, or was it a meeting for the supporters of the ANC?
Eventually, we received word that Mr Ramaphosa had been delayed at the Polokwane Mall while doing his rounds as part of scheduled interactions with supporters on the ground. How nice, I thought, that he felt he did not need to be on time for something he had organised so he could chat with people in a mall. What on earth was he thinking? It is completely unacceptable in any professional circle to arrive five-and-a-half hours late for a meeting of any sort.
At about half past five Mr Ramaphosa finally arrived, apologising profusely for his tardiness. The dialogue then began with a lot of shouting of “Amandla! Awethu!” and more singing. When the talking did happen, I must admit it was impressive. Mr Ramaphosa is an articulate man after all and he knows how to play the room. In a pre-dialogue address, he spoke at length of his hopes for the youth of the country, including an inspirational comment that said, “We are all lucky, because we are living in an era where the shadow of Apartheid is receding. This could be a great country very soon. It is right in front of us. All we have to do is reach out and grab it.” This is the sort of thing I had wanted to hear and it definitely impressed the room, but it was still five-and-a-half hours too late.
Govan and I ended up having to abandon the dialogue early in order to make it home at ten ‘o clock at night and we missed most of the answers that would have been incredibly important to hear. With three hours of road to cover there was no other option.
Overall, I felt like Mr Ramaphosa did have a good message for the youth of South Africa, and he seemed ready to hear us talk, but the way in which he was so ludicrously late for the meeting was completely unacceptable. It made what should have been an interesting experience for a greenhorn journalist like me, into a tedious drag that felt like a deliberate waste of our time as journalists.
Mr Ramaphosa appealed to me, but I was disappointed with the lack of professionalism involved. If I could say one thing to Mr Ramaphosa, it would be this: The funny thing about us youths is that we are an impatient bunch. We like things to be done as quickly as possible so we can move on to whatever it is we do with our time. We have news instantly at our fingertips, we download our music and movies, and get nearly anything right at the instant we want it.
We do not wait an entire afternoon for you to arrive at your own meeting. This is the one thing Mr Ramaphosa did not understand on Friday, and it hurt what should have been an enjoyable experience. Until next time, I suppose.
Tristan de Robillard
Tristan de Robillard is a third year journalism student at Rhodes University.