Just as the planet's greatest show is about to end, South Africa's big political show is warming up its engines again, with a firm promise that the next couple of months will be interesting indeed.
Julius Malema is about to get back in the news again. But he needs to make some pretty careful decisions if he’s to stay on top in the Youth League. The first of those will actually be taken today, when the League’s national working committee will decide whether to go ahead with its national general council gathering on Monday, or to delay it. There are some quite serious implications either way.
Malema is now in a very strange space. It’s one of the political dilemmas that is all about timing. Like all other political dilemmas really. This one is about when to hold the League’s NGC. He wants to hold it now, like yesterday. So he’s aiming for Monday. The reason is that he has control of several provinces now, but is losing his grip slightly. The North West, Western Cape and Eastern Cape leagues are all being run from the centre. We say “run”, but we mean “controlled”. Technically, the reasons are that the provincial executive committees failed to hold their conferences on time. While that’s kind of true, the real reason is that in two provinces, Eastern Cape and Limpopo, delegates seem to have wanted to vote for someone else.
Malema has been unable to stretch his political hook far enough to keep them in the paddock, so he’s used his shepherd’s crook. And to continue this, he has to have a successful NGC. This means not only that he has to remain seated (it doesn’t look like he’ll leave yet), but that he is seen to be in charge of the Youth League. However, there are two court processes in motion that could lead to real trouble for him. Both the Limpopo and the Eastern Cape issues could see Malema’s enemies winning handsomely. Then they could go to an NGC with their tails up, and possibly, just possibly, start to move against him. So Malema wants to hold it now, before those court processes finish.
But as always with legal processes, he runs another risk. If he holds it now, and those court processes result in losses for him, one of the outcomes could be that he is ordered by a judge to hold the NGC again. Anything decided at the first NGC could be declared null and void. Which means he would have to start from scratch, and on the back foot. When his enemies are not only in the pound seats, but also with a very real agenda to get rid of him.
Key to all of this, of course, is the support he gets from Luthuli House. President Jacob Zuma has no reason to really back him now. Apart from the fact that some of his enemies are supporting Malema, kind of. But it may well suit Zuma to keep a weakened Malema hanging around, rather than run the risk of having a new unknown quantity, who would be feeling emboldened by ousted Malema. So Zuma will probably keep him on board. Not that being backed by Zuma nowadays means you will stay or you will go.
But if the League’s NGC does go ahead next week, it’ll set the tone for the rest of the political year. Political parties can get a taste for getting rid of their elected leaders. Think of the Tories post-Maggie. Once they were rid of William Hague, Iain Duncan-Smith quickly followed, and then Michael Howard. The Youth League likes to claim that it’s a king-maker. That’s not quite as true as they would like, but it does have a habit of setting the tone for the party. So if the NGC turns out to be fiery, with drama, you could expect the ANC’s NGC to follow suit. Especially as it happens to be scheduled for September. Which could turn out to be just a couple of weeks after the Youth League’s.
On a practical level things aren’t cut and dried either. Malema will want to make sure that at the very least all the delegates supporting him get to the NGC for Monday morning. But it’s in Mafikeng, which is not the best place to watch the World Cup final. So the whole thing would start hugely late anyway, and to delay it could be costly.
The last time the League had a big gathering was in Bloemfontein. That’s right, the conference that saw Malema eventually being elected. And a naked bum on the front page of The Times. Eventually another conference had to be arranged at Nasrec, within striking distance of Luthuli House. And since then things have only become more anarchic in the League.
So expect fun and games. The World Cup is nearly over, but the circus rolls on.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)
Photo: The Daily Maverick