Analysis: The Youth League’s strategy, counter-punches and reality

By Branko Brkic 14 May 2010

Well, the ones-that-will-inherit-this-country have decided to fight. But this time, they will not be shouting and screaming for a while. More like fighting the elders on each and every corner. They can afford it. Time is on their side.

Well it’s now official. Julius Malema does not, repeat, does not have the support of the majority of the ANC’s national executive committee. Or at least he thinks he doesn’t, which amounts to the same thing. If he did, or if the ANC Youth League thought he did, they would go full tilt at the NEC, and argue and argue until the disciplinary commission’s findings against him were chucked out.

That is what we can deduce from the League’s decision to “engage” the ANC’s leaders on the “procedures followed, not on the merits or de-merits of the case”. In other words, they’re going to argue that the charges against “the nation’s favourite Young Lion” were not formulated properly and the issue wasn’t resolved properly. Now, you could claim that actually Malema wouldn’t stand a chance in the NEC because he had pleaded guilty to the charge of “behaving in a way that would sow discord in the party”, and thus he couldn’t argue against the outcome. But as we all know, in the ANC, politics trumps the law every time.

So if Malema was feeling strong, he could fight the fight for the ultimate win in the NEC. But he doesn’t, and that is perhaps the big lesson out of this entire saga. We now know that, for now at least, Malema is not the biggest king of his particular heap. He’s less powerful than he thought he was. And he can’t have it his own way all the time. Perhaps we should feel good about it.

Photo: A rare sight: Malema-less ANCYL press-conference at Muldersdrift on Thursday

But, there’s still the League’s decision to fight the sentence on procedural grounds. It seems, at first blush, a bid to make the threat of a two-year suspension go away. You may remember that part of his sentence – that if he’s found guilty of the same transgression again, he’ll be suspended. And that’s bound to hobble him hugely. He cannot speak out, he even has to be careful in his attacks on Gwede Mantashe. It is a huge albatross around his political neck, so the League is jumping to his aid.

But there’s a also a tactical element to it. As ANC secretary general, Gwede Matashe was responsible for bringing the charges, any small victory on the issue of procedures is a victory against Mantashe. It’s all part of the usual grand ANC game of weakening whoever is the current leader, because it strengthens me. So it’s actually quite cunning. We like cunning. There’s been a distinct lack of it lately, with all the shouting and screaming.

Which brings us nicely to our next point. Of late, all forays by the League in public, i.e. in front of the media, have been all about testosterone. Malema’s mostly, but also Floyd Shivambu’s. Thursday’s presser (journalistic jargon for press conference) was handled by Vuyiswa Tulelo, the League’s secretary-general. Her profile has been building over the last few weeks, and the oestrogen makes for a big change. She has the ability to keep her cool and can actually understand a question for what it is, and either answer or not answer, rather than just respond with insults. As an aside, Shivambu, who would normally chair the press conference, did very little. That job was left to the other spokeswoman, Magdalene Moonsamy. Perhaps, just perhaps, he and Malema have been told not to speak to the press until the complaint by the political journalists is cleared up. (Conflict alert: This reporter is one of the journalists who complained.) More likely explanation would be that, once he starts, Malema wouldn’t be able to restrain himself, effectively putting himself at the ANC disciplinary commission’s mercy.

Photo: Another rare sight: Floyd Shiwambu, quiet.

The League’s leadership, i.e. its NEC, are now also going to join Malema in his punishment. That’s right! It’s going to be a very crowded anger-management class. And ANC political school. Which, if the reports are correct, is chaired by Tony Yengeni of all people. As one wag said in an SMS to Cape Talk, he’s an interesting parole-model! It really is like sending bad kids to jail, to become hardened criminals. Of course, any reasonable person would have to ask how on earth that happened? What were they thinking? But it could also be evidence of a cunning plot to keep control over the kids. You know you’re in trouble when Hogwarts gets taken over by he-who-must-not-be-named.

There will also be a lot of anger about the sharing of Malema’s fine. We’ll just have to live with that, although we do think the League should tell us what will happen if they raise more than 10 grand. But at least we can think of them all in a classroom whiling away the weekend hours. The chances of anyone learning anything constructive are pretty minimal.

The upshot of this entire period, from the time President Jacob Zuma said he was taking action against Malema, until now, is that, barring an earthquake within the NEC this weekend, Malema has lost out badly. Like real big-time. He’s not the figure he was, and from the brief glimpse we had on Thursday, he looks slightly lost. The NEC will not back him and that means he’s out of the game for a while.

We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again, Fikile Mbalula’s campaign to take over from Mantashe is not going well. With Malema as its figurehead, it’s run aground. It’s foundered on a jagged reef. And it’s going to be a long hard slog for both of them to get back into clear water.

By Stephen Grootes

(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)

Main photo: Vuyiswa Tulelo, the ANC Youth League’s secretary-general.


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