(The statue of John Langalibalele Dube will be on display together with other ANC past leaders at the conference venue.) The city of Mangaung is getting ready to host the 53rd ANC National Conference to be held at the University of Free State.

Smokers at the ANC’s national conference in Bloemfontein are being treated like royalty.

A tent, reminiscent of a stylish cocktail lounge, has been set up next to the media centre as the smoking room for journalists.

The airconditioned perspex-walled marquee was filled with black and white sofas, chairs and ottomans with a scattering of red and grey throw pillows, and grey shaggy carpets.

The tent was lit up by hanging lights and red lamps on side tables next to the lounge seats.

Among the sofas were white tables, with British American Tobacco SA (Batsa) branding, and bar stools. On each table was a vase with red flowers.

In August, the Constitutional Court turned down a legal challenge by Batsa against a ban on smoking advertisements.

The court declined Batsa’s request to hear an appeal of a judgment upholding the ban by the Supreme Court of Appeal in June.

Reporters at the Mangaung conference were so impressed by the room that even the non-smokers said they would spend time in there.

An ANC official said the room was sponsored. Two cigarette vending machines and water coolers had been placed in the tent.

There were also flat screen televisions with Batsa branding on them.

Hostesses emptied ashtrays while soft background music was played.

A women who walked into the lounge was stunned by the set-up.

“This is a stunning place,” she said.

Another said: “I’ve never seen a smoking area like this.”

The ANC-led government is renowned for its tough anti-smoking laws. - Sapa