It's the week after the big walk, and once again we are being assailed by headlines that seem to spell doom for the project that is keeping Young Lions past and present very much occupied. There was the longish march, an attempt at grabbing the political initiative, that may, or may not – depending on where you stand – have succeeded, but that dominated headlines despite it being very much President Jacob Zuma's week. And then: Bang! As usual, on a Sunday, a lump of bad headlines for Julius Malema. In the eye of the storm is his mate, leader, mentor, and fellow partygoer, sports minister and ANC secretary-general wannabe, Fikile Mbalula. How's the 2011 Class Project going? Not well it seems. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
It's quite an interesting phenomenon. The biggest current political push of our times comes from a person who wants to take over as ANC secretary-general. And yet Fikile Mbalula doesn't grab the headlines nearly as much as he should. But this weekend, he found his personal life splashed all over the front pages. For a man who's publicly campaigned for people to have "one partner" and to take care with alcohol, it would appear he has a little bit of a party problem. He also has a media management issue. The City Press started advertising on Saturday that it had a story about a minister and a sex scandal. On Saturday afternoon he threatened court action. The newspaper girded its loins, and made sure that people knew what was going on. As a result a story that might have led one paper, ended up on the front pages of all three of the big papers.
In essence, it would seem that Mbalula, met, got along with, and impregnated a 27-year-old model, all in the space of a few hours. The killer for the City Press story was the SMSes that flew between them. SMSes are becoming our equivalent of the political email in the US. For other political figures, this would be an issue. For one who wants to claim perhaps the most powerful job in the country, it's more than that. Oh, and before we forget, for what it's worth, he is married.
But he probably wasn't sweating as much as Julius Malema was in humid Mauritius this weekend. First the Sunday Times claimed he'd gone from his walk to a "R10m wedding" in just a couple hours. But the real juice was in the Sunday Independent. It claims that Malema is “going to be arrested" by the Hawks because of the dodgy tenders he's been handing out in Limpopo. Malema, in case you've forgotten, seems to have access to easy cash by the crane-load. And it seems that's because he's been controlling who gets government tenders in his home base. The Hawks are not saying anything on the subject, but we all know they are investigating him.
So, where does all of this leave Mbalula, Malema and possibly the real power behind their project, Keyser Soze? Or Kgalema Motlanthe, as he's more commonly known.
Firstly, it would appear that despite Malema's best efforts, the march is now already ancient history. It's over, done with and forgotten. In the final analysis, it hasn't actually mattered. He's basically gone from being a marcher for the poor to a crook in one fell swoop. Instead of the headlines that had people gushing over his determination, his beret and his limp, we now have the rich Julius, the tenderpreneur, the corrupt man who would be kingmaker. It's a reminder that actually, this is what we seem to be dealing with.
We've suggested before that one of the obstacles that Malema and Mbalula and the rest of the young guard have in trying to overcome the older guard is their lifestyle. There is simply too much partying, along with all that goes with it. Malema couldn't resist the trip to Mauritius. All that beret-wearing for nothing. Mbalula is now going to be cast as someone who is immoral, who can't be trusted. And by the time his enemies are through with him – and they are many and powerful – he might end up looking like a joke. He and Malema have also lost a massive weapon that they would have wanted to use against President Jacob Zuma. Now every single hint at his colourful private life is going to just attract jibes and jokes. And let's be frank, Zuma's private life could have been rich pickings for those who wanted to use it against him. To lose that weapon could turn out to be crucial in the battle for Mangaung.
We have to now start asking a previously unthinkable question. When we listen to Malema, and hear about Mbalula, it seems obvious that they have the lust for power – this is to them what meat and drink is to the rest of us. But in fact it's beginning to appear as if money and drink could actually be more important to them. If someone looks at the seat of power and that's all that goes through their mind, well, clearly their lust for more power will be peppered with problems.
To win power in South Africa requires discipline and hard work. Ask Helen Zille. Look at our last few presidents. No one could doubt Thabo Mbeki's discipline; Mandela had been a boxer and a lawyer, and then lived through many years of jail life, where only self-discipline could save him. Motlanthe seemed to live such an abstemious life that at one point he was referred to as a monk. Zuma himself, sex aside, doesn't drink anything stronger than Rooibos, and is happy to wait last in the queue for his beloved oxtail (really, I've seen it).
Now look at the youngsters. Malema demolishes a R3 million house, drives expensive cars, and wears a Breitling – not that you see him wearing it in combination with his beret, perhaps the colours clash. Mbalula is a party animal who not only can't keep it in his pants, he can't keep it protected.
One of the most important things to do in political campaigns is to not make mistakes that expose your fallibility. One of the reasons Barak Obama won is that his first rule in his campaign was "don't screw up". Malema and Mbalula are in the fight of their lives against a very determined, experienced and disciplined opposition. They can't afford to screw up. And yet that is what they are doing. We have to wonder now, if they are not just one screw up away from complete and utter failure. Which would result in the political wilderness for one, and perhaps jail for the other. And all of it would be excruciatingly public. DM
Main photo: Julius Malema, Fikile Mbulula. Reuters.