Zuma backs Malema, but does that really mean he could be President?
It’s the front page designed to scare the non-proletariat. And trust President Jacob Zuma to deliver it. “The ANC recognizes talent”, he said, “Julius has illustrated that is indeed a good leader and that he understands the people.” He went further, saying he would be happy to leave the leadership of the party in Malema’s hands. In other words, the current President is happy to have someone who would kill for his political leader as head of the ANC and, by implication, President of the country.
But context is everything in politics, and Zuma was speaking in Malema’s hometown. He was speaking as he officially opened a church that Malema was involved in constructing (clearly Malema believes in God, if not the existence of hermaphrodites). It’s easy to presume that Malema is rather popular in Seshego (population 121 639 in 2001, according to Brittanica.com). He’s the local boy who not only drives a Merc, but also is quoted in the national media on a daily basis. In short, his path of national political power started in Seshego.
Zuma has been accused of tuning his message to his audience, a habit that seems to have faded a little since he became President. He was talking to Malema’s biggest fan club. He wasn’t likely to have a go at him. So that begs the question, did Zuma just get carried away, or does he really mean it?
Zuma may well have decided that Malema is good for him. Malema makes him look good in many ways. He will also have a kinship based on their upbringing. Neither of them were able to able to study much, they have strong views on nationalisation, and they’ve both been hugely mocked by the middle class media. Malema gives Zuma political room to move, and if he wants to say something and protect the rand, Malema is very useful
Yet ANC politics are infinitely more complicated than that. Even if Zuma wants Malema to follow him, there is a queue. Malema will face huge obstacles in his continuing path to power. For a start, there’s his immediate Youth League predecessor, Fikile Mbalula. He’s already been tipped for a tilt at the Secretary-General job. Mbalula’s temper is likely to rule him out at some point, he simply can’t control what he says (Eyewitness News still has the tape of him saying that the University of KwaZulu-Natal was too much like Bombay, a comment he’s always denied making).
And that’s before you even look at who else is keen. Kgalema Motlanthe might well have developed a taste for the corner office at the Union Buildings. Tokyo Sexwale is always keen, and of course, there’s Zwelinzima Vavi who’s been playing a canny long game.
But Malema’s biggest enemy will be himself. Anything can happen with him. He could open his mouth, change feet and suggest that whites should be expelled. There would be a backlash from the majority of the ANC. His lifestyle could also catch up with him. Things happen to young politicians who live fast, drive fast, and hold big parties If Zuma stays in power for two terms, other political champions will emerge, as the political pendulum swings back.
Malema will be pleased with Zuma’s comments, but if he’s reminded that many people have been tipped for the top during their youth, he’s also likely to ignore them. And that would be a mistake, that could typify why the top job seems very unlikely.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is a reporter for Eyewitness News)