CONVERSATION PIECE: Life’s a Drag when you’re Undercover at the ANC Gala Dinner

Here’s one for your next dinner party. When Food Mole failed to receive an invitation to to the ANC’s Manifesto Preview Dinner at Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre, he fretted for a minute, then pulled himself together. Like a nervous Cape stock fish, he’d been in this pickle many times. Once he’d thought about it, it became clear: as on many occasions in his long life as an observer of Matters Culinary, he’d fall back on his resources of cunning and wile. He would sneak in disguised as one of Jacob Zuma’s wives. (How would he know which one? Even Msholozi can’t tell them apart much of the time.)

As always, as a precautionary measure, Food Mole dispatched one of his operatives to nab a copy of the menu, and was taken aback on first read:

Grace by Provincial Chaplain”.

(One could arrive late?)

The national Anthem”.

This was going to be a fun night out. Then followed:


Welcome by ANC Treasurer General

Paul Mashatile

Manifesto Preview by the President of South Africa

His Excellency Cyril Ramaphosa

Well, Mashatile is regarded as something of a dish, one supposes. And when Cyril was served up to the nation a year or more ago, he did promise to bring us some political fare we’d want to get our teeth into. But there had to be something more substantial on the menu. Oh, there it is, on the opposite page. Sorry. So it’s Friday night and here’s Food Mole at the Durban ICC. And we’re made to stand at the entrance “because late”. What is this? We’re South African. Of course we’re late! It is required. There is nothing more gauche than arriving on time. Anyway, finally Food Mole is ensconced between some very nice Indian people from La Lucia who are delighted to sit with “one of Zuma’s wives” but are too embarrassed to ask which one, because they think they’re supposed to recognise me, which of course nobody does. (“I’m number five or six, I think,” I tell them, “but sometimes we move up and down the list depending on Msholozi’s mood.”) Eventually the starter arrives. This is what you get for the cheap-seats price of R5,000 a head for “any seat at any available table”? (Why does Food Mole hear the shisa nyama calling?) Let’s not even mention the R50k “Nickel Package” table of 10, the Bronze, Silver or Gold packages (R100,000, R150,000 and R250,000) or the Platinum for a cool half mill. Half a million bucks to have dinner with Dep-Pres David Mabuza? And you must pay, not him? I’d sooner negotiate for a nice meal with Cyril at the shisa nyama next day. He sure looks like a man who likes a nice plate of meat. The starter is a duo of chicken terrine and smoked chicken breast, served with sautéed carrot florets, pickled broccoli and avocado mousse. What must my table mates make of this? Not a spice in the lot. Does the governing party not know about when in Rome and all that? Why not some perky chilli bites? A nice coriander raita to dip them in? And what is a carrot floret? (Excuse me while Food Mole tears his remaining hair out.) Broccoli has florets. Cauliflower has florets. A carrot that has florets needs to be sent to the Frankenfood factory for testing. You can’t serve it to paying guests, not even at the shisa nyama. It’s not surprising that the broccoli was pickled, considering what it was sharing a plate with. At least our food of the year, avocado, was represented, but avocado mousse? In 2019? Still, maybe it’s making a comeback. Then came the main course of “medallion of herb-crusted lamb”. Medallion. One medallion. This is not France. And again, where’s the spice, the turmeric, the cumin, the bite? Oh yes, there, sorry. The one-bite-and-then-it’s-gone bite. The R5k-a-head-bite in the cheap seats. Still, there’s also a spicy lamb sausage. Somewhere. And at last, some spice. Somewhere. (Did somebody snatch it from the plate when Food Mole was looking away?) With caramelised baby onion (baby again), a spinach parcel and some butternut. You don’t want to know how much butternut you get for R5k. The dessert of lemongrass crème brûlée with a coconut macaroon and seasonal berries seemed to have been designed to offset the spicy meal you haven’t had. Maybe the dessert chef hadn’t read the rest of the menu. Only a year earlier, at the East London International Convention Centre, Food Mole had observed men in fedoras (and Gwede Mantashe in a fire engine-red blazer!) tucking into smoked chicken and mango, napped with a piquant strawberry salsa, as if it were a plate of chops and ribs at the Meat Meet shisa nyama in Diepkloof. Luckily, the jacket was so red that the strawberry stains would never have been noticed by Mrs Mantashe next day. (Chicken, mango, strawberry. Chicken fruit salad? Still, what does Food Mole know.) The chicken probably needed a smoke after that. The main course had been somewhat more refined than a plate of cow at the shisa nyama – a duo of lamb cutlet and chicken breast with what City Press at the time aptly called “an awkward side of what was called a vegetable basket, but was really just a hard pastry with barely a teaspoon of gravy and overcooked veggies plopped in the middle”. The guests, City Press observed, “were treated to an awful rendition of Thina Sizwe – a song we know to be one of Zuma’s favourites – by an over-zealous praise singer who warned that the DA had sent people to spy on the event, though it was not immediately clear who the double agents were. There wasn’t much direction to the event and everything seemed to happen on an ad hoc basis”. Not quite as elaborate, then, as the roof wetting lunch for Sol Kerzner’s Palace of the Lost City at Sun City in 1992. Food Mole remembers that as being such a ridiculously over-the-top affair – your host Des Lindberg at one point yelling, “Bring On The Soup Lovelies!”, who then wafted in bearing great steaming tureens above their heads – that one lady was heard to remark on departing much later, “What’s he going to do for the actual launch? Slaughter the naked maidens?” DM