The Star building has a VIP dining room on the sixth floor. It has, from the gardens outside, a fine view of the ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, right across the road in Sauer Street. Sometimes I’ve stood and looked and wondered if the reason for the atrocious cellphone signal at the offices, which has got worse over the years to the point where “3G” is more “eg”, is because the ANC have some elaborate blocking system.
I’ve also always wondered what possessed the ANC to spend an estimated R20-million to buy the building right across from a paper that has fought for it to be unbanned and now fights to hold it to the ideals and dreams that were once so inspirational and have been discombobulated and confused by the soul-sucking lure of easy money. Perhaps they wanted to keep an eye on us. Perhaps they thought we were “on their side”, or perhaps they wanted to get us on their side. R20-million is a Wikipedia estimate, I must admit, but no one seems to know how much it cost, but it does seem an awful lot to pay for an ugly building in the middle of old Johannesburg.
The Star is in a suburb called Johannesburg, that is how central we are. The sixth floor VIP room has hosted many members of the ANC, as editors and journalists have met to bitch, er, discuss matters off the record. There is a tale told about Mac Maharaj ripping a strip off a former political writer whose pants never seemed to reach his shoes, telling him that he wrote the biggest loads of codswallop ever. Mac, it seems, has not changed, although few argued with his assessment back then. We lived off stories from the sixth floor. It seemed a fun place, almost mythical.
The sports department got it’s chance to have lunches on the sixth floor, although those have gotten fewer down the years. We’ve had lunches with rugby, cricket and football administrators and coaches. I remember Andy Turner, the then Lions CEO, telling us at one lunch that he wanted The Star to be the English media partner of the union. It was, he said, “out of the box” thinking. It was, we all agreed later, “out to lunch” thinking. Turner didn’t last much longer at the Lions. Neither, it must be noted, did many of the players as a mass exodus of talent tripped the light fantastic out of the union.
In 1998, we played host to the newly-appointed Bafana coach, Philippe Troussier and his assistant, Augusto Palacios, the great survivor of South African football. Palacios was the fourth Bafana coach after isolation, and had been appointed as Troussier’s assistant, although no one seemed to know why. At the lunch on the sixth floor Troussier told us that he held South African football journalists in the highest esteem, before telling us why he didn’t. Someone came up with the bright idea of asking Palacios if he would take and send us behind-the-scenes pictures from the 1998 campaign. Of course he would, he said, but he didn’t have a camera. As I recall, the promise was made to provide him with a digital camera. I’m not sure whether he got the camera, but we were told he had. We’re still waiting for those pictures, though…
Palacios is now the coach of Orlando Pirates, but he may just be the only person who will not be fired from that job. Irvin Khoza has gone through 14 coaches in around 17 years. He is, by trade, a technical director at the club, someone who oversees things and doesn’t have the bother of coaching. On his website, Palacios lists, under his achievements, the following: “Orlando Pirates FC Recognition Most dedicated Discipline, committed and professional Coach (trophy); Orlando Pirates FC Honour or Appreciation and Leadership Technical Director of development programme (trophy); Orlando Pirates FC Recognition Most Dedicated Technical Director of development Programme (trophy); Orlando Pirates FC Recognition Chairman Award, Dr. Irvin Khoza Orlando Pirates FC recognition; Chairman Award Dr Irvin Khoza Long Services.” Gosh.
For years if you asked a local football journalist what Palacios did, some would admit they weren’t entirely sure, save that he worked behind the scenes. Now he’s in the front lines, and next week he may win the Absa PSL. We may have to invite him to the sixth floor again for a chat.