Jacob Zuma at the Centenary celebration. Picture: SIPHIWE SIBEKO, REUTERS
Jacob Zuma at the Centenary celebration. Picture: SIPHIWE SIBEKO, REUTERS

I’m not holding out much hope that the ANC’s 105th birthday party on Sunday will be much of a celebration, not with all the bitter infighting in the ranks.

Yup. It’s not going to be pretty. I should know since I am acutely aware of the horror of the unravelling of a planned kneesup…

Preparations began weeks before, in October 1974 – a month before my 16th birthday.

Sweet sixteen. My lovely dad belted out Neil Sedaka’s Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, out of key but lustily and with much volume, whenever he saw me.

I beamed at being the centre of my father’s attention, something that was hard fought in a family of four children, all big personalities demanding daddy’s ear.

Being a truculent teenager, I rarely made public demands for my lovely dad’s time or affection, which made his unasked offering of it so much sweeter.

And to have the spotlight on me for such a prolonged period of time… it felt like exposing my face to warm sunlight in the dead of a bitter Ladysmith winter. Today, 42 years later, I can still remember the warmth and the quiet contentment of being, for that short time, my father’s favourite.

Of course my horrible young siblings tried to ruin it, sibilantly mimicking the song and making horrible faces behind my father’s back whenever he started singing.

But dad, like every member of my family has always done, took it too far and began humming the annoying Sedaka tune mindlessly, often under his breath. It drove my mother mad and suddenly, what had started out as my special dad-time-treat moved into an area of fractiousness and anger.

It sort of set the tone for what was to follow, and 1974 became the year remembered forever as the worst birthday ever.

I love my birthday. No, multiply what you’re thinking by a lot because I mean I REALLY love my birthday.

I’m something of a birthday brat and expect everyone I love to call or write or make a fuss of me on the day of my birth. And every year I am surprised by how wonderfully my friends respond to my need to be feted, how they make me feel special with so flowers and presents and calls and emails and Facebook messages. So much love.

The passing years have not diminished my need to be seen on my birthday, to be thought of and be acknowledged. It’s as though a nod and a tipping of the hat on that special day is proof that I exist, that I am alive.

It goes back to my very early childhood. I was a sickly child, asthmatic and prone to respiratory infections that left me panicked and gasping for air.

To get me through the fear and the panic, my mum tried to turn my episodes into a game. She built me a towel tent in which to be nebulised in the old fashioned way.

And my reward for breathing, for playing the endless game of counting breaths and sucking on my inhaler to stop me from turning blue came with promises of birthday magic.

And true to her word, every year my birthdays were spectacular. Crowns and fairy dust and cakes and presents and having the talking stick all day when I was little.

Then red roses – a dozen long stemmed red roses to be exact – sent to me by my father every year from when I turned 16 until the day he died, no matter where I was in the world.

Then there was the birthday of the yellow ribbon, wrapped around a brand new red jumbo Golf, and the year of the Piaget watch with the mother of pearl face.

But this 16th birthday was a fiasco.

Mrs Singh was making the dress, multi-coloured hearts on a black background, a sweetheart neckline, puffed sleeves. Only she hadn’t measured the arm width and we only realised hours before my party that the sleeves were too tight.

“Such fat arms,” she said, a little defensively I’ve always thought given that she’d forgotten to take the circumference arm measurements.

Then there was the fact that a classmate held her party on the same day, and many friends went there rather than come to my house because who wants to party at the headmaster’s house, in the middle of the afternoon, under the watchful eye of the headmaster and a host of teachers.

On top of that, the cake that had been ordered from a woman who was clearly illiterate read Hippy Birtday Charmaine, and everyone knows I have no “E” on the end of my name. Fixing the icing ruined the cake.

It rained so the party that was to be held in the garden at tables on the lawn had to be moved into the house and the proximity to the teachers my parents had invited was too close for comfort and those few friends who did come left early.

Altogether the whole thing was a disaster.

And so I know the trepidation being felt by a very large number of ANC members as they prepare to celebrate the organisation’s 105th birthday.

There is so much infighting and squabbling and fractiousness within the ranks of the ruling party that any show of unity or attempt at celebration will be a thinly veiled pretence. And there will be the obligatory “paid for” attendance of many thousands, bussed in from around the country no doubt with the promise of food.

The rallying call for “Unity in Action” rings hollow as the fight rages on who will replace our errant president: Cyril Ramaphosa? Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma?

Yes, Orlando Stadium will rock and there will be loud speeches and a lot of jingoism and toyitoying and praise singing and and and…

Still, the ANC’s 105th birthday party I fear will be rather like my 16th birthday party: a bit of a damp squib, and not just because the weather forecast predicts rain.

Please sign in or register to comment.