happy birthday!

TomorrowBrigalia Bam turns 67!

TomorrowBrigalia Bam turns 67!

She has no special plans for her birthday as her whole psyche is attuned to South Africa's big day, April 22, the day of the elections.

If she's grown a few grey hairs over the years, she's likely to wake up on Wednesday with even a bit more colour on her temples.

She's anxious, that much she admits. The nervousness comes because "we want to deliver a good poll".

"We" is the favoured pronoun of good leaders when they refer to their own efforts, when the singular could have done perfectly. In her case, as chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), she's at the helm of a 205040-strong team of electoral officials.

She does not know if people born under her star sign - Taurus - are perfectionists or not. All she knows is that the country deserves a well-run election, free of the fears the elder statesman of KwaZulu-Natal politics, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, has expressed about Nongoma.

Given the large presence of police in the disputed Nongoma area, north of the province, Buthelezi said on Tuesday at a media briefing in Durban that the elections would not be free and fair. This was part of the "dirty tricks" campaign of the ruling ANC.

Seated in her vast office at Election House, that could easily be converted into a three-roomed dwelling, Bam pauses to fish for her response to the IFP leader, which she'd meant to be circulated to all media.

When she finally finds a copy, it allays the fears of the IFP and concludes: "The Code of Conduct, which the IFP signed, prohibits any party or individual from damaging the credibility of the IEC."

It is (little?) things like these that age her. She worries about strikes too and how they could affect voters and the turnout.

She reads all the newspapers every day and as one surveys the paraphernalia she's been lugging from the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria, where she was addressing a briefing of international observers, this is no idle claim. The dog-eared newspapers attest to being thumbed through.

She devotes as much time to radio and television bulletins, selectively picking out what might affect the poll.

Watching her from the sidelines at the Sheraton, one couldn't help but notice how busy she is.

She was the last to eat as people wanted to speak - from Max Sisulu introducing a guest from the US, whose face Bam admitted "looked familiar" to members of staff thrashing out logistics to ordinary voters talking shop.

So when she rests, she says, it is not in the physical sense but merely to reduce the anxiety levels. She does not have worry beads to finger so it helps her tremendously to talk about her worries, says Bam.

"I also laugh a lot," says the trained social worker.

Laugh she would - and a lot - when she regaled us, in the presence of IEC media person Kate Bapela, with anecdotes about the tribulations of her opposite numbers on the continent.

The one in Kenya was frog-marched to the president's home and ordered to announce the results. Another counterpart was sneaked into her hotel room just so he could share his fears with her. In Nigeria a bunch of thugs failed to ram a truck into the building housing their electoral commission.

When she told these stories, she laughed heartily but mindful of the trauma the victims went through.

What she cherishes about South Africa is that "we are protected by the law".

She shares hilarious accounts of how past president Thabo Mbeki had asked to see her and an over eager official in the presidency had summoned her to Mahlambandlopfu. For this oversight, the official was chided by Mbeki, who was soon blue-lighting his way to Election House instead.

She will vote in Lynnwood, but only after accompanying President Kgalema Motlanthe to cast the first ballot.

Sis Hlophe, from her given name Ntombemhlophe, is an ordinary black woman. A former member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and a South African Council of Churches (SACC) employee, the church still plays a huge role in her life. She was in Soweto the other day at the memorial service for an old friend in the Women's Manyano. "I was in my full uniform," says the Anglican.

She was at the wedding of a niece in Port Elizabeth a few days later because "family things give me a lot of pleasure".

Born in Tsolo, in the old Transkei, she's part of the Plough-back Movement, which does exactly what the name suggests.

She's chancellor of Walter Sisulu University.

After 11 years at the top, Bam says she's done her bit and will not wait out her 14 years - two seven-year terms.

When she told the nation and the world that we were ready for April 22, she said "our last three elections were completed in a tranquil and harmonious atmosphere" and she hoped that as a nation we'd "sustain and maintain that tradition".

She's done her best, if you consider what a shambles elections in Kenya, the DRC and Nigeria can be.

All 23 million of us on the voters roll owe her a birthday cake, at least, albeit belatedly.