ANC officials have been forced to turn to leaner fare – biltong – after the party banned its leaders from eating cake in public.

Northern Cape ANC chairman John Block, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and provincial secretary Zamani Saul munched what appeared to be the traditional snack while listening to messages of support at the start of the ANC provincial conference in Upington this week.

At times, the brown paper bag of goodies was handed to others on the platform, fuelling private chats on stage. Ordinary delegates had to sit tight until the dinner break.

The ban on ANC leaders and officials eating cake in public was taken at the March ANC national executive committee meeting, following concerns that during the ruling party’s centenary celebrations in Mangaung in January, the huge black, green and gold cake was cut on stage – and enjoyed by the top six officials – but not by the ordinary members.

By the time the biltong appeared on stage in Upington, President Jacob Zuma had left, as had Premier Hazel Jenkins.

“Happy Birthday” echoed through the venue – a tent provided by sushi king Kenny Kunene – as Jenkins made a brief public appearance while recovering from a stroke suffered during her state of the province address earlier this year.

Kunene’s business partner Gayton McKenzie was seen earlier supervising the erection of the tent.

Jenkins’s birthday was on the eve of the provincial ANC conference on Wednesday, but there was no cake. Instead, her attendance was described as proof of her recovery – regardless of whatever the rumour mill might say. She walked on stage unaided and had a brief chat with Zuma.

When he briefly left, Joemat-Pettersson, who had arrived late and was seated at the back of the stage, moved in to take his seat, only to be booted out by one of Zuma’s bodyguards when he returned. - Saturday Star