Politics

Analysis: Vavi and Malema return to centre-stage

By Stephen Grootes 6 April 2011

It’s election season right? When everyone within the tripartite alliance is supposed to shut up and sing from the same hymn sheet, all at the same time in happy harmony. When normal politicking, sniping and general internal nastiness is to be curtailed until, you know, later. Riiight. Perhaps Zwelinzima Vavi and Julius Malema missed that memo? By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Turns out, the election season is also the time when it is cool to shock and awe all your opponents. The many signs point to a rocky time that will come after 18 May.

Last year – 2010 – was marked by the two extremes of the alliance, the two parts of it that generated the most news, and how, really, President Jacob Zuma worked the middle so well that he was able to fly those two tornadoes. On one side, Julius Malema, on the other, Zwelinzima Vavi. So it’s been a little surprising that both have been so quiet this year. Both seemed to have taken to heart the message that there must be “no more public spats”. However, this has changed.

Last weekend, Malema told a regional meeting of the ANC Youth League in Limpopo Zuma had been wrong to support the United Nations no-fly zone resolution over Libya. He said “this is no longer the party of Nelson Mandela” for “perpetrating violence on another African country”. In a tape that found its way to Eyewitness News, he also said Muammar Gaddafi was a “true revolutionary”. This was the meeting that plunged The Star into so much trouble. While the newspaper has apologised for misquoting Malema, the fact is it got the essence of the story right (which may be why the League is behaving a bit like a bouncer who has to murder a person for spilling their drink). Malema criticised Zuma, and called the “hero” a guy who is so bad even the Chinese won’t touch with touch 10-foot steel pole.

The real question that matters, of course, is whether this really does mean Malema broke the terms of the sentence handed down by the ANC’s national disciplinary committee last year or not. And whether he really cares anymore. He received a suspended sentence, and was told he’d be suspended from the party should he transgress again. It’s a matter for interpretation. Or, more accurately, it depends on whether he’s irritated Zuma enough, and whether the ANC president thinks he has the muscle to get rid of Malema now. The fact that proceedings haven’t been instituted against Malema would lead to the conclusion he doesn’t think he has what it takes. For the moment. Election season is really not the time to have such a dilemma.

Then on Tuesday Vavi stepped up at a National Metalworkers Union of SA conference. He was among friends, but the invitation to the media was clear. He wanted the cameras, and he wanted the applause. While it took him a little while to get going, once he was on that roll, he wasn’t going to stop. First, there was plenty on how the candidate selection process for the ANC had allowed opportunists into the mix. Then there was the money quote: “If we allow people to take our movement in the direction they’re taking it, very soon we’ll have to call someone President Zille.”

Well. There are so many ways to interpret that. Vavi could be simply using Zille, as in God-Zille, as boogeywoman who would finally beat the fractious alliance into some kind of shape. He could be saying the ANC as a whole is not doing well, but people should still vote for it, or that the party is actually in danger of losing some serious ground come May. More intriguingly, could it be that he’s really having a dig at Zuma himself? Could he be saying that the party is headed in the wrong direction, because it has the wrong leadership?

There seem to be several factors at play when it comes to these two dominant political players. It’s no secret that both of them are frustrated with Zuma, albeit for very different reasons. It also seems incredibly likely that Malema is just biding his time before he comes out and starts shouting at the President. Presumably, he’s just waiting to get that little matter of his re-election out of the way at the League’s conference in June. Unless a deal is done first. Vavi may take a longer-term view. He will know that whoever takes over from Zuma now will have many of the same problems, a fractured alliance, no clear ideological cohesion, contradictory demands, the list is long. But at the same time, he surely doesn’t want to be the guy who led Cosatu through the terms of two presidents who ignored it. So perhaps he just wants to keep up the pressure in the hopes that he’ll get what he can from Zuma. So far though, that really hasn’t worked.

It’s still way too early to predict how things are going to turn out, both in these elections, and in the more interesting Cosatu/SACP/ANC elections that come in 2012. But one of the scenarios you can bet on is we will see a president, in his second term at the helm of the ANC, having to fight off constant sniping from the Youth League and Cosatu. Now, where did we see it before? Remember Mbeki? DM


Grootes is an EWN reporter.

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