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Grootes: My political memories over 20 years

For a political animal like myself, to be asked what stands out in my memory of all that has happened in our politics should be a difficult question. I should shake my head about from left to right, and ponder deeply. I should go back to the start of my own real political reporting career and the trial of Schabir Shaik, which in so many ways has set the course of the country, and of what I have seen over the last ten years.

I should spend this entire piece contemplating those mad days in September 2008, when I went from a court room in Pietermaritzburg on a Friday, to asking the President if he would resign on the Sunday, to Gwede Mantashe using the phrase "recalled" on the Saturday, to the swearing in of President-for-a-moment-Kgalema Motlanthe the following week. Of how it still seems like a dream that all that happened, how Thabo Mbeki went from president to ordinary citizen in just a political moment.

I should also think of the various elections I've covered. Of how the 2004 elections saw Mbeki ruling the roost with a more than two-thirds majority, and yet doing very little with it. Of the 2009 elections that saw the phrase "Stop Zuma" becoming used so often, and how our president really became the Number One of our politicians.

I often think the days after our elections are the happiest moments for the country, all the battles and wounds of the last few weeks are put aside, and as South Africans, we gather together, and watch the results of our great games come in. It helps that the IEC's results board looks a lot like a cricket scoreboard.

And all of that is to forget the party conferences themselves, which are often more seismic, more important, than elections. The DA's 2007 conference that saw Tony Leon leaving and Helen Zille arriving, the ANC's Mangaung Conference that saw the end of Motlanthe's real career.

And who could forget the muck and mud, the anger and turmoil, the frustration and the hand-signs of Polokwane. Of Mbeki making the world's worst speech at the world's worst time, of the moment he started speaking and the ANC Youth League started shouting, of Mosouia Lekota trying to call for order, of those moments when Dren Nupen finally got a few minutes of silence, for the announcement of the leadership election results. Of the woman banging a drum and blowing a whistle so loudly in front of me as Zuma won. And those hugs. Those hugs. Between Zuma and Mbeki. Those signs of affection that signalled the end of one of the ANC's most important and long-lasting friendships.

But I don't focus on all of that. It's not my overriding memory. It's not what I first think of.

Instead I go back a bit further.

It was December 1996. I was at university at Rhodes, and doing an internship. At a corporation I've spent so much time reporting on over the years. I was young, long-haired. After my early morning shift (the first of many, many, many), I realised that the Constitution was going to be signed into law by President Nelson Mandela in Sharpeville. As a student, I also had a drivers licence. 'Have Golf, will travel' could have been my bumper sticker.

I rang a friend, into the 1.3 litres of German engineering we jumped, and off we went.

It was probably the first big political mass event that I went to. I had never been to that area, and the entire experience was an alien one. My friend had a handbag and as we got to the gates, the male security guard refused to search it, saying only his female colleague was allowed to. For someone used to being searched when we entered a shopping centre, it was a real indication of how things had changed. No police-women being around, we were waved on through.

I can't really describe now what it was like. I still remember it in vivid technicolour. Walking to the top of the stands, and how once we got there, a middle-aged black woman coming up to us with a clipboard in her hands. We thought maybe we were sitting in the wrong place, perhaps we had been bussed here, or maybe, as people who stuck out a little, it just wasn't kosher to even be there.

None of the above. Instead, she asked us incredibly politely if we would like to come and sit on the field, in the front. Where we would be able to see better. I immediately realised that it wasn't about us seeing at all. It was about us, in all our minority glory, being seen on the television cameras. I was well fine with that. My friend started to argue, it would be unfair she said. I told her in a less than gentlemanly fashion to shut up. This was a chance to firstly see Nelson Mandela, and secondly, to watch him sign the Constitution.

There were not enough wild horses in the world to have stopped me.

There is a strange vibe to having actually been at an event that you then see reported in the news later. It took me a few years to get used to it. But that was really the start of a bug that has bitten me since.

Many people write off our politics for various reasons. But when I look back on what's happened, there have been so many instances that you would not have been able to predict. I have been lucky enough to see history happen in front of me. We are a country where no one group, no one faction, or individual, is able to remain Number One for very long. As a result, we will always be unpredictable.

It's what makes our politics so interesting. And so much fun.

Stephen Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He is also the author of 'SA Politics Unspun'. Follow him on _ Twitter: @StephenGrootes_

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