#OnTheCouch with Zille, Lekota, Charles Dickens (and a motley crew of slackers)

I attended a chat session featuring Helen Zille and Terror Lekota interviewed by Lindiwe Mazibuko and got much more than I bargained for.

The poster invited us to On the Couch with Helen Zille & Mosiuoa Lekota: South Africa at a Crossroads, an informal chat led by Mmusi Maimane. The DA’s national spokesperson was not there but the opposition heavyweights were instead interviewed by the charming Lindiwe Mazibuko.

The event, organised by the DA City Bowl Branch (@DACityBowl) under the leadership of Phumzile Van Damme (@zilevandamme) and held at the District Six Museum, was both intimate and impressive. (Thanks to Sascja Bowes (@sascja) for spotting it and including me.)

The warm banter between the two leaders ensconced on a comfortable looking couch increased the audience’s suspicion that a merger between the two parties was imminent. In fact, the evening started in ‘Check your Mate’ style with Zille explaining how the two met at the launch of the UDF in 1983.

The DA leader, always a powerful speaker, explained the importance of our constitution and that we are witnessing the far-reaching consequences of the breakdown of the tripartite alliance. The Limpopo text book crisis, she said, was evidence of the sacrifices the ruling party were prepared to make in the name of closed patronage.

Lekota is anything but terrifying

Lekota’s nickname, Terror, which he explains as dating back to his prowess on the soccer field, is anything but apt. The COPE leader, whose grandmother named him Mosiuoa to signify that she would leave him behind after her death, inspired the crowd with his rousing oratory and genuine warmth.  When defending the constitution he clutched a copy of it and held it high. He urged the audience to ensure that all the people they knew exercised their right to vote. (“The strongest weapon we have to give our country a chance is our vote.”)

Twitter was there, too

The room was filled with members of the media and so all the major news platforms have, or will probably, run in-depth analyses over the next few days. They were also live-tweeting snippets of the event for those who missed it.

For me, however, this was the first time I have been at, and tweeted from, such a high profile event. And I was not alone; the hash tag #OnTheCouch was so active last night that it trended on South African Twitter.

Chris Trott (‏@UKinCapeTown), of the UK consul General, tweeted during the discussion:

An extraordinary no of people tweeting #OnTheCouch given total in room. I think this is >est tweeter/non ratio I have ever encountered.

I am so used to being told, primarily by my mother, that it is inappropriate to tweet (“be on your phone”) in company and here I was, in a room full of people all tweeting at the same time. Twitter conversations were flying across the room and I got to meet or sight many of the people I follow and interact with on a regular basis.  Sascja and I were like children set free in a toy shop.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

The great novelist, Charles Dickens, would have been an expert tweeter; many of his insightful comments are profound yet short. Back in 1859 he began A Tale of Two Cities with the following words:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” 

I was reminded of his words as I stood at the back of the crowded hall, listening to the speakers and following the live Twitter stream. Because, as I realised, Zille and Lekota were not the only two on the couch that night.

No, as it turns out, the DA City Bowl branch needs to choose a different hash tag for its next soirée.

If you tried to follow the event via its hash tag on Twitter, you would have been accosted with a range of tweets about what people all over the world were doing on or to their couches. Here are a few examples, followed by what I would have tweeted in reply had I cared enough to do so.

Whenever my mom is home she’s always passed out on the couch.

My mam complains about her weight yet she makes me walk around the house to get things for her while she sits on the couch.

LOOOOOL My mom is laying for 4 minutes on the couch and she fell asleep. how cute

(What am I doing wrong? My kids would never let me sit on a couch long enough to fall asleep.)

ya i sleep on my bed and on the couch and sometimes even on my floor

(How versatile and easy-going you are. Your parents must be so proud.)

Layin on the couch in my office!!

(Don’t be surprised if you don’t get the next job you apply for.)

“Grow old with me!  The best is yet to be.”  (Robert Browning)

Inane tweets aside, we left on a high after shaking the approachable Terror’s hand and sharing a few private words with him. We felt happy and confident.

It was sort of like leaving an engagement party (peppered with a few drunken aunties) knowing the betrothed are well-suited and that their future will benefit those around them.

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