Amid all the hullabaloo around Julius Malema and his resurgence, it’s been interesting to see who has been quiet, and who has not. The most interesting people have been the quiet ones. Gwede Mantashe, Zwelinzima Vavi, President Jacob Zuma, his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe - we’ve hardly heard a peep from them. Maybe they’re plotting and planning. Maybe not. So we are going to do some for them. By that perennial equal opportunity advisor, STEPHEN GROOTES (just ask the ANC and DA).
If you are in charge, nominally perhaps, of the commanding heights of the ANC and of the alliance, Malema is probably the person you follow most closely at the moment. He has survived everything thrown at him, from AfriForum on the right and outside the alliance, to Zuma’s attempt to discipline from deep within the organisation. But we can think of at least three ways to neutralise both him and his agenda.
The first is to start to cut away his support base by changing conditions on the ground. You wouldn’t know it from the parking lot at the ANC Youth League’s conference, but generally speaking it seems Malema gets his power from the poor who’ve lost hope. Those who are in the League as the last stop before throwing stones. They are young, have plenty to offer and no prospects. So give them some.
You’ve said it before Zuma and Mantashe. It’s about jobs. Create them. Millions of them. Here’s how. You create, through legislation, a special category of job. You take a leaf from India’s book, and create jobs that last for a specific time. You allow any company to use this category. They cannot fire and re-employ anyone under this category, you have a provision to make sure current workers are protected. So any firm can hire any people for any job for a limited time, no questions asked. And these fixed-term contracts can be just a day long if necessary. Someone works hard, they get reemployed the next day and so on. It will introduce that almost nonexistent concept of merit into our labour system.
But business has to come to the party. In return, they promise to create a certain massive number of jobs, fast. And you follow it with an equally massive PR offensive. Literally, day one Zuma signs the thing into law, day two, Anglo hires 10,000 people to help clean up an old mining area. Day three another large firm follows suit. Keep up the pressure. And keep these people employed as much as possible. Keep them productive.
At the same time, tell Blade Nzimande to get off his bum, and start very cheap, but not free, adult education classes. Someone works all day carrying rocks to a building site, make sure he has a class to go to that evening, in which he has to invest himself. He is far more likely to stay in that class if he has to put up some money for it. Cosatu’s role in all of this would be to just shut up for a bit. Jobs are better than decent work, at least for the moment.
The net effect of all of this will be to change all of these Youth League supporters into natural Cosatu members. They will have something to lose, they will join unions (not at first, otherwise business won’t hire them, but over time) and they will have hope. It changes the playing field completely for Malema.
And it wouldn’t have to take that long, if it’s done right, you could really get a job creation/multiplier affect going in the economy pretty quickly.
Then there is another, slightly nastier and messier way to neutralise the Young Lion. You get everyone who is a current Cosatu member to join the ANC. That would change the maths considerably. At the moment, the League has around 360,000 odd members, the ANC itself is somewhere (good luck getting a hard figure and even better luck confirming it) in the region of 900,000 to a million. This means Malema controls about a third of the ANC. Obviously that is an over-simplification, but it will do for now. Cosatu, through its affiliates, has about 2 million members. Were they all to join the ANC, Malema would be totally outgunned.
But there are some serious reasons why that probably won’t happen. Not all Cosatu members are political, they would not all want to belong to the ANC. They joined their respective unions to gain the benefit of the protection those unions gave them, not necessarily to get involved in a fight with Malema. On the other hand, were it to be sold to them that it was Malema or them, they might get more involved.
Which brings us to the third way Malema’s influence could be neutralised, in the short term at least. It would be for all the top leaders that matter in the ANC to publicly repudiate him. By “that matter” we mean Zuma, Mantashe, Motlanthe and Mathews Phosa. Phosa’s role in the Malema mega-tsunami cannot be underestimated. He defended him during his disciplinary hearing last year, and Malema publicly thanked him for that at the end of last week’s conference. So Phosa would have to be included here. And while we’re here it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have Tokyo Sexwale in the mix as well. Just to put those rumours to rest.
So imagine a press conference, all of the above at a table, with Zuma reading out a statement in which they condemn some aspects of Malema’s recent conduct, explain why mines should not be nationalised, condemn it for what it is (an attempt to gain control of resources), and say that juniors should not talk about land reform in such a wild way. And at the same time they can reaffirm the League’s independence and all of that.
There would be plenty of consequences for this, but for all these leaders, it would mean they are no longer in any kind of political debt to Malema. It would be quite a liberating feeling for them to get rid of that particular albatross. The effect on Malema himself would be huge. He would lose his role as powerbroker. It would have the effect of reducing his power hugely, quickly and publicly. There is no way he would be able to come back from that, at least in the short term. He knows that for him the ANC is the only game in town; he would be nothing without it and in South African political spectrum he has nowhere to go. And hell, with a bit of luck, he’ll say something stupid, like people shouldn’t vote for the ANC or something. Which would mean he could easily be drummed out of the party.
Of course, all of the above options require guts and trust. Guts to actually implement, and trust in their fellow leaders. Which is why none of these plans will ever be put in place. But, it does show that those who are opposed to Malema do have options, should they find themselves with their backs to the wall. And Malema would never forget it. DM
Photo: ANC top six on the election day in Polokwane, 18 Dec 2007 (The Daily Maverick)
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.