When he arrived for his first state visit to South Africa in 21 years, I asked whether Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was here as bruiser or supplicant.
He had expressed his anger at South Africa’s not knuckling down to regional regulations on conducting trade.
Some accuse South Africa of dominating trade. Other go as far as calling it a hegemon
But Mugabe was also desperate to get what he could for his cash-strapped country.
Having watched him talking to Cabinet ministers, officials and journalists at the Union Buildings and to business leader at their forum on the second and final day of his visit, I am convinced that Mugabe was wearing neither his street fighter cap not his pan-handler beanie.
He was here as trouper, a performer. Star of the show, even had his host not made a stab at upstaging him.
After the pro-forma welcome remarks following their talks on Wednesday, Zuma was obliged to watch his guest hold forth for an hour in the sweaty briefing room.
Not one of his now clichéd liberationist, anti colonialist, land-grabbing, state-control activist positions went unexplained.
Every one of his enemies from Ian Smith to Tony Blair was castigated.
He added Cecil John Rhodes as an afterthought – realising that we in South Africa are currently preoccupied with the mega rich arch-imperialist.
Half way through it, I found myself unable to avoid laughing.
It was like finding oneself foot-tapping at a Barry Manilow concert – or someone else one shouldn’t be seen dead enjoying.
At the business forum on Thursday, Zuma departed from his notes and rode his black empowerment hobby horse for half an hour.
The anecdotes and rhetoric were laid on by both parties – again to the delight of the audience.
Instinctive. Reductive. But gripping beyond the telling of it.
Did Robert Mugabe go home with anything substantive.
Hard to say.
But we certainly go our money’s worth.