Malema: Down And Out?

News & Analysis

Malema: Down And Out?

The former president of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), Julius Malema, became the first prominent casualty of political war when he was slapped with a five-year suspension by the South African ruling party. This was at the end of a disciplinary hearing that started in September and concluded on 11 November 2011. What does the future hold for the young firebrand?

Soon after his suspension Malema declared “The gloves are off”. In a direct challenge to the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, he has vowed to take the fight to the ANC’s elective conference next December. “Let the enemy enjoy, but that victory will not last. We will be liberated by Mangaung 2012,’’ he declared soon after the verdict was made public.

The city of Mangaung (Bloemfontein) will be the battlefield  when Africa’s oldest political party congregates to elect their President and other office-bearers and consequently, the presidential candidate for national elections in 2014. More significantly, the party founded in 1912 will be celebrating its centenary.

The suspension verdict also sanctioned, in varying degrees, Malema’s entire executive, including his controversial spokesperson Floyd Shivambu, who was given a 3-year suspension. They were ordered to vacate their offices. Initial reactions are that the 30-year-old Malema will effectively find himself in the political wilderness. He will surface at the age of 35, the cut-off age for membership of the ANC youth league, which he turned into a powerful voice on national issues during his tenure. Malema has vowed to appeal against the guilty finding and his sentence all the way to Mangaung. In setting himself up firmly against the current President of the ANC and that of the country, he will be in for a rough ride. Without the trappings of his office, as well as with the huge psychological damage of his suspension, Malema will diminish over time. The office is the man.

He seemed untouchable until he was slammed. His reckless and disrespectful pronouncements under the guise of militancy were taken as gospel by his admirers, especially when there were no consequences. He picked on populist themes that resonated with the unemployed youth, the poor and the marginalised, mostly black. He added fuel by racialising the issues of poverty, often railing against white monopoly capital, the inequities of land distribution, and the iniquities of the mining industry and why it should be nationalised. What he said on issues had a ring of truth, but the problem was how it was said, his style.

Now outside the ANC tent, he has signaled a campaign to topple its current leadership, more especially the presidency of Jacob Zuma, having successfully mobilized to unseat ex-president Thabo Mbeki in 2007. But times have changed. At the time, Malema had an office, and Zuma was the deputy president riding a wave of ANC sympathy, while Thabo Mbeki had too many virulent enemies.

This time, it is Malema who has managed to make many enemies. According to a poll, his suspension was welcomed by 70% of youth surveyed. It was even reported that a convoy of about 50 cars celebrated ecstatically in his hometown of Seshego, led by Boy Mamabolo, a childhood friend turned enemy. It may have something to do with Malema’s forceful style.

Now reports keep surfacing of his imminent arrest following an investigation into his alleged involvement in corrupt activities that have funded his wealthy lifestyle. It has also been reported that some of his trusted lieutenants and rivals have already started repositioning for life after Malema. As a commentator noted: “When a lion is wounded, the smaller animals begin to sniff around it.”

The run-up to Mangaung 2012 will lead to many corpses, and Zuma is sparing no effort to clear the deck. Apart from taking out Malema, he has shown unprecedented mettle by firing two ministers fingered in wrongdoing by the public protector, Thuli Madonsela. He has also suspended the National Commissioner of Police, Bheki Cele, for his role in a lease scandal. He has come out firing in rapid succession.

To the amazement of the nation and opposition parties, he has appointed a commission of inquiry headed by eminent judges to probe “the arms deal”, which has been a festering sore in the soul of the nation since 1999. That was when a multi- billion arms procurement exercise brought about reports of massive corruption in the awarding of contracts to politically connected functionaries. Thabo Mbeki resisted calls over the years to institute a commission of inquiry. It was also on the back of the arms deal that Zuma was infected by allegations of corruption, when his confidante Shabir Shaik was prosecuted and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2007. Zuma has also made public the Duelfer report on an oil-for-food scandal during Saddam Hussein’s time. It fingers some of his adversaries.

He will also be riding the wave of the year-long centenary celebrations of the ANC. Activities to honour all the twelve former presidents of the party are planned. Each will be allocated a month, culminating in Zuma’s turn in December when the party goes for its elective conference.

The battle lines have been drawn between the President and a Malema faction. In Malema’s corner are Tokyo Sexwale, the current minister of human settlements, who wants to be president, Winnie Mandela, Fikile Mbalula, the minister of sports, Mathews Phosa, the ANC  treasurer general, and Tony Yengeni, a prominent ANC member and ex-leader of its parliamentary caucus.

In Zuma’s corner are the ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe (who famously announced the recall or sacking of Thabo Mbeki ), the Minister of Higher Education and head of the South African communist party, Blade Nzimande, Minister of Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, the Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Lindiwe Zulu, Zuma’s international relations advisor. There are many supporting actors now Malema lies seriously wounded.

Zuma’s biggest threat is seen to be Tokyo Sexwale, who does not hide his presidential ambitions. The billionaire businessman has openly backed and testified for Malema. He is reported to have bankrolled him in the past, with the understanding that Malema was going to be the decisive factor in Mangaung. In a scathing broadside at him, the national disciplinary committee, on announcing its judgement against Malema, described Sexwale as lacking knowledge of the ANC constitution as well as relying on unsubstantiated statements and hearsay. In his testimony on behalf of Malema, Sexwale had said: “The disciplinary proceedings were being used to stifle debate and solve private problems because somebody was waiting for the earliest opportunity to institute disciplinary action as soon as Malema said something wrong.” Notably, the deputy president of the country, Kgalema Mothlanthe, who Malema has openly backed to succeed Zuma, refused to testify on his behalf.

The chairman of the ANC’s national disciplinary committee, the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom, has dismissed suggestions that the case was politically motivated.

The ANC was merely responding to a call by delegates at its national general council in September last year that the importance of discipline be reinstated and that ANC members and leaders should be reminded of the oath they took when joining the movement, Hanekom said.

Whether anybody has an agenda or not, politics is the name of the game. All is fair and square, it seems. The prize is power.

For effect, the MDC-T calls its plan a “Jobs, Investment and Upliftment Programme”. As expected, Zanu-PF has dismissed the plan, saying it was informed by a colonial mentality that believes blacks should be workers and not employers.

The debate continues.

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