Analysis: Malema's last arrow in the quiver
So Julius Malema has been booted out of the ANC outright. And that should be that. But he has one lifeline yet, thanks to the mothership’s unending love affair with process – he can try to influence enough delegates at the elective conference at Mangaung to have the verdict against him reviewed, and possibly overturned. But this strategy requires patience and cunning, which may just be a bridge too far for the young, brash Juju. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
We’ve often said former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema is a lot smarter than the press and the chatteratti have given him credit for. You honestly cannot have so many South Africans in a froth for four long years if you don’t have more brain cells than would cover a small biscuit rattling about in your cranium. You can’t manage to become the single focal point for millions of disaffected young people and you certainly can’t run an organisation as big and as awkward as the ANC Youth League if you don’t know what you’re doing. So no, Malema isn’t dumb.
What he is, is a pug-nosed pugilist, and a massively impatient one at that. Sadly for him, he’ll need to be the epitome of political cunning in the coming months if he hopes to become a crushing embarrassment for President Jacob Zuma at the ANC elective conference in December.
There was a large intake of breath on Wednesday when it was announced that the national disciplinary committee had ruled to expel Malema from the party. Who would have thought that the cherished son of the national democratic revolution – don’t tell us you’ve forgotten Zuma saying that Malema will make a good ANC leader one day – would one day be summarily kicked out of his beloved party? The thing is, it need not have come to this.
A refresher: the NDC found Malema guilty (it also found some other ANCYL leaders guilty, but this is Malema’s story, so we’ll focus on him) of bringing the party into disrepute through his comments in 2010. He struck a plea bargain where he pledged he wouldn’t do it again within two years at least, and failing that, would be suspended from the ANC and ANCYL for two years. It was all going very well, until the impertinent Malema could hold it in no longer and he let rip at Zuma. And on the country’s foreign policy. And on Botswana. Then the ANC came down on him like a guillotine and found him guilty for the same crime that he committed in 2010, and ruled to suspend him from the party for five years.
Then Malema decided to appeal. That failed too, because the bare-knuckle fighter in Juju could be contained no longer. Before the national disciplinary committee of appeals he resorted to nothing more than bluster and barely-disguised threats as the basis for his appeal. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t work either. But the committee did allow that the case should be referred back to the NDC for a hearing on mitigation of sentencing. The ANC then stepped forward and said, hey if he’s allowed that, then we’d like to present evidence in aggravation of sentencing.
That right there should have sounded alarm bells. But it didn’t. He forged ahead.
And the consequence of that is that he has now spectacularly lost and for the same reason that his appeal failed. He abandoned all pretences of smooth legalese, and adopted a strategy of open confrontation. The “learned” members of the NDC took massive umbrage at this, and modified his sentence from a suspension to a full expulsion.
You’ll notice how Malema has failed time and again to deploy the one weapon that might have saved his bacon: patience. He simply could not be buggered to hang back a little, or to use discretion (as the better part of valour) or in any way to choose not to go in boots first. It’s all very grand and “young lionish”, but the problem is that his adversaries are well schooled in Machiavellian politics. Zuma used to be the ANC head of intelligence, for crying out loud. And Mantashe came out of the unions and the communist party. Those organisations aren’t famous for choosing naïve leaders.
But this doesn’t mean Malema has now reached the end of the road. He still has a single lifeline. Or one last arrow in his quiver, so to speak.
Ironically, Malema has been handed a break by the ANC’s deep love for due process. This is a party that revels in crossing t’s and dotting i’s. So the NDC and the appeals committee are subsidiary committees of the ANC’s national executive committee, and the NEC has the right to review decisions made by the disciplinary committees. And this can be referred to the elective conference, the highest decision-making body of the ANC.
It really does pay to have friends in high places in the ANC.
So that is the favour that Malema has to call in. He will need to muster the support of the delegates to the Mangaung conference if he hopes to have the NDC decision overturned. There is just no way he will be able to convince the sitting NEC to overturn the NDC decision. And in any case, the ANC has announced that it accepts the outcomes of the ruling.
Two sources within the ANCYL have said that the plan is now to “take the battle to the branches”. The argument apparently being made at the ground level is the one that failed before the disciplinary committees. The ANCYL will attempt to convince ordinary members of the ANC that Malema is indeed the victim of a sinister political conspiracy, and has been kicked out of the ANC for daring to be the true voice of the poor.
For this to work, Malema will need to have two things come together in his favour, and one of those things is completely out of his control: he will need to run a very cunning campaign, and he will need to tap into the alleged widespread unhappiness with Zuma. If precedence is anything to go by, Malema will not manage to be wily about this campaign. He’ll be loud and he’ll thump his chest. In the background, Mantashe will be able to make countering moves with ease. And on the second score, there simply is no widespread unhappiness with Zuma. At least not on the ground, and not on levels seen just before Thabo Mbeki got himself voted out of the ANC presidency.
So you could say that Malema has already lost this one. But we won’t know that as an absolute certainty until after the Mangaung conference. You know; due process and all that. DM
Photo: Mangaung could hold one last chance for Malema. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.