Our intrepid team of reporters were all over the African National Congress' (ANC) policy conference at Nasrec, in the south of Johannesburg, like a Gupta deployee on an Eskom tender. This is what they saw ...
Tongues were wagging at the choice of red wine at the ANC's traditional pre-conference dinner, held in one of the cavernous halls on Thursday evening. A blend from the vignerons of Rupert & Rothschild – one family the epitome of South African capital and the other the symbol of the Illuminati – was drunk and enjoyed by all.
One senior ANC delegate (who begged HuffPost SA to keep his identity secret) said the Rupert & Rothschild rouge was nice, but that another estate wine was surely more apt: "We should have had Allesverloren rather..." Which translates to "all is lost". Positive, much?
Funny that. Friday's early morning high-powered business breakfast was hosted by the ANC's Professional Business Forum (PBF). It's an ANC body set up a couple of years ago as a "club" for business to cosy up to the party leadership.
Members get preferential treatment at conferences, access to ministers and often score invites as part of delegations accompanying the president abroad. The kicker to all of this? It's run by Daryl Swanepoel, who literally switched off the National Party's lights as the last party secretary. Did anybody say white monopoly capital?
Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba didn't want a muffin or any of the delectable high-calorie treats on offer at the business breakfast on a chilly morning in Johannesburg. "Are you banting, minister?" he was asked. "I haven't eaten bread for two years," he responded. "It helps to prevent constipation," he added.
You may not respect or like our finance minister, enmeshed in scandals from here to Dubai as he may be. You may think he is a 'super-suit-without-substance', as some critic or other argued. One, however, must respect his commitment to maintaining a summer body – and fitting gracefully into the tightest of swanky outfits - even in the depths of winter. Perhaps one should credit him for overseeing the ratings downgrades – perhaps it'll mean fewer Streetwise meals with extra chips and, ultimately, a better physique as the money dries up by December.
Gigaba, who was set to address the delegation of big businesses, opted out of his usual well-turned-out suits for a more casual, yet sleek jacket – and an ANC beanie of course.
He was unassuming, making small talk with members of the media before he was called to his seat for a gourmet breakfast of prettily garnished eggs and other delightful-looking treats.
It was only afterwards, when the majority of ANC bigwigs had arrived, that the peculiar sense of exaggerated precaution set in.
Media who had attended Gigaba's presentation were not allowed back to the courtyard where they had initially entered. Instead, they were made to exit the premises and walk about a kilometre around its parameter to re-enter at a special media gate where of course, one would have to traverse a group of guards and their metal detectors.
The magnitude of the conference's security contingent is enormous.
Journalists were kept fenced off from the rest of the courtyard and rooms where ANC members would attend their commissions. Three security guards blocked the narrow gap in the gate and none were allowed to pass without the correctly-coloured badge.
To be allowed into the area, one must be escorted with special permission. Perhaps the party feared a journalist may somehow stumble into one of the commission sittings – something they clearly are not taking any chances on.
Back at the special media room, where journalists spent most of their day penning the breaking news and binging on free coffee, the cash-strapped majority were happy to overcome inflated data prices because of the expectation-passing wifi connection.
After enduring the president's seemingly ceaseless address to conference delegates, journalists were looking to fill up on something more... nourishing.
But they were in for a nasty surprise. The lines leading to a much-needed plate of grub were akin to Orlando Pirates fans waiting in eager anticipation outside a stadium ticket queue to later be disappointed by the end result.
The meal was..."fulfilling", but some of it could have spent a little more time on the stove.
With a full stomach (because journalists will never miss out on an opportunity to eat, no matter what's on the menu), and basking in the sun, one could not help peering over the wire fences and into the courtyard where ANC members were loitering in their breaks.
It seemed, at a glance, that the atmosphere was jubilant, with ANC colleagues hugging one another and sharing stories as they walked to their commissions. It was all smiles. One would not think these were members of a party fractured by factionalism.
Stay tuned for day 2. We'll be having it.