Birthdays, Suits and Presidents

On an assignment to cover the President’s annual state of the nation address, I quickly learned that sometimes you just need to make your own excitement…

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, MAy 16, 2012 - Already expecting another routine birthday, after having experienced 26 of them, 27-year-old Victor Mendez, had no idea that this year something would be different. That, in fact, his birthday would play host to a strange pairing, and quickly turn into the South African State of the Nation Address unofficial after party.

Positioned in the middle of a popular cocktail bar on the busy Long Street in Cape Town, the rowdy Angolans looked a perfect remedy for the veteran journalist exhausted from the day’s media rush, the disgruntled government official, whose invitation to the ceremony was “lost in the mail” and a young, but exhausted journalist thirsty for a good story – and maybe a good drink.

To the relief of both the veteran journalist and politician, Victor’s weak English was a comfortable distraction from any serious conversation or debate threatening to spark.  In his Portuguese laced English, Victor told us of Angola and of its lifestyle, of his job as a sailor on the high seas, and of his beloved daughter in France.

I couldn’t help but empathise with him and his obvious confusion, as he listened to two completely contradictory descriptions of South Africa:

“Crime, corruption and crooks” said the journalist.

“Striving to ensure the betterment and development of communities and people, and provide education and schooling to create more employment and job provision ensuring higher living standards of living and therefore better lives,” said the government official.

When the night reached puberty, conversation flowed as freely as the alcohol across the table. And as the journalist disentangled himself from his phone, and the politician de-assembled his 3 piece Fabiani suit and threw the stiff jacket across the chair, I realized I still had a story to write.

“So how about the State of the Nation Address, guys?” I asked, fishing for quotes.

The table suddenly roared with excitement, with Victor’s voice booming over the commotion.

Si! Waiter, give two of what she has said!” shouted Victor in his broken English.

And so, there in a bar on Long Street, illuminated by the blue lights of the South African president’s patrolling “SS guards”, a journalist and a politician shared a toast.

Stranger things have happened.


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Sisi Lwandle

Sisi Lwandle is a journalist, a sister, a daughter and a South African. She loves God, people, telling stories and having cereal for dinner.

She loves music and is a struggling musician. By struggling she means she can't play much more than a few feeble strums on the acoustic guitar.

She spent a few years as a medic, and even lesser years in a City jail (during visiting hours). She hates having to describe herself in less than 1000 words. 

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