Africa, Politics

ANC interrupts Youth League’s Botswana regime change dreams

By Carien Du Plessis 2 August 2011

A red-faced ANC has again whipped out the party’s rule book in its rebuke of its Youth League, and there’s just the faintest whiff of disciplinary action in the air. CARIEN DU PLESSIS thinks the League’s latest pronouncements on aiding regime change in Botswana - subtext: hamba Zuma – mean Malema and his mates are on thin ice. Again.

The ANC has issued a veiled threat about another looming D-Day to its youth wing, when it said yesterday that the Youth League’s latest pronouncement on helping to effect regime change in neighbouring Botswana “is a clear demonstration that the ANCYL’s ill-discipline has clearly crossed the political line”.

The party had no policy to effect regime changes “anywhere in the continent or in the world” and it was “totally unimaginable” that the league would even dream of something like that, let alone “put it in the public domain” (i.e. telling everyone about it).

In a statement 24 hours after the league announced it would “unite” opposition parties to win the next general elections against the ruling Botswana Democratic Party, the ANC has “totally rejected” and “publicly rebuked” its youth wing for its “thoughtless and embarrassing pronouncements on (effecting) ‘regime change’ in Botswana”.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said on Monday, in a wordy missive just after lunch, that the League’s plans to establish a “Botswana Command Team which will work towards uniting all opposition forces in Botswana to oppose the puppet regime of Botswana led by the Botswana Democratic Party” and saying Botswana was “a foot stool of imperialism, a security threat to Africa and always under constant puppetry of the United States” as “a total deviation and affront to ANC policies”.

Talk about ill-discipline popped up in the third paragraph, and then Mthembu dusted off the party’s constitution.

He politely reminded the Youth League leaders and members that Article F in the League’s constitution stated the league was autonomous, but subject to the ANC’s policies, of which it “is an integral part”. “The ANCYL’s life and body politic is based on the political and ideological objectives of the ANC,” Mthembu said.

Some in the League – particularly Julius Malema’s most vocal fans – prefer to emphasise the autonomy outlined in Article F, arguing that it means the ANC shouldn’t meddle in its affairs, much less discipline its leaders. That debate is likely to resurface should this statement be a precursor to, at worst (from the League’s perspective), disciplinary action, and, at best, more political schooling. Malema must be heaving a sigh of relief that the statement said nothing about sowing divisions within the ANC, as he could be kicked out of the party if found guilty of this offence again, as happened last year (when he unfavourably compared President Jacob Zuma’s leadership with that of his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki).

On closer inspection, the League’s plans for Botswana amount to nothing less than a sophisticated middle finger in Zuma’s direction, but because it was done in such a roundabout way, the ANC could have a hard time convicting him of sowing divisions. Also, because it was a decision by the league’s national executive committee, the ANC would struggle to find one individual to discipline, while chiding the whole executive could amount to too much interference in its autonomy. Let’s backtrack a bit.

The League’s out-of-the-blue announcement of its plans on Sunday, straight out of its first national executive committee meeting since its June congress, baffled journalists at first glance.

For one, Botswana is a stable democracy and needs no lessons from the South African “masters of electoral politics” (Malema’s words). Secondly, Botswana’s next general election is only in 2014, and the League has more important things to do, like helping to fight the ANC’s internal leadership battle ahead of Mangaung next year, and mobilising votes on own soil for the ANC for South Africa’s own general elections in 2014.

Lastly, Botswana, with its mostly happy cooperation between mining company De Beers and the government, was not too long ago still the poster-guys for the league’s call for nationalisation.

The League claimed it was irked when Botswanan President Ian Khama broke ranks with the African Union last month by supporting the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. It also vaguely mentioned something about rumours to establish a US military base (better known as Africom) in our northern neighbour, something which was mentioned about five years ago, but the US embassy said on Monday “at this stage there are no plans”.

The League’s real gripe was most apparent in the way it approached the Botswana attack, prefacing it with an attack on the African Union and the Southern African Development Community. It said youth leaders “expressed concern about the decline of regional and continental formations, SADC, and the African Union, particularly since the departure of President (sic) Thabo Mbeki in the space of African leadership” (Mbeki, incidentally, on Monday rubbished the League’s criticism of these bodies as weak). The League then complained about a vacuum of African leadership, which isn’t completely true, since Zuma is now responsible for representing the country in those bodies. It also said “the issues of Libya and the Ivory Coast were mishandled”.

Foreign policy has emerged as a tool for the League to hit Zuma, especially since South Africa in the United Nations earlier this year voted in favour of a no-fly zone in Libya – which has led to Nato bombings in that country.

So this disguised attack on Zuma was the real reason for the ANC’s swift reaction. The ruling party in its statement denied that the AU and SADC were in decline, it mentioned some international projects championed by Zuma (the north-south trade and development corridor, for one), and said the League did not understand the “complexity of the situations” in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire.

The ANC also added “we have very good relations with all our neighbours, including Botswana, which we can always use to exchange information and advise each other.”

It isn’t the first time the Youth League overstepped the line of good-neighbourliness. Just over a year ago Malema controversially endorsed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s land grab at a time when Zuma was involved in sensitive peace talks between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and opposition parties. This put Zuma in a very uncomfortable position and Malema was charged for it in a disciplinary hearing, but the charge did not hold.

While the League’s pronouncements could be seen as yet another shot in the battle towards Mangaung 2012, this latest entanglement in a diplomatic debacle is similar to last year’s in another respect. They both came shortly after embarrassing revelations about Malema’s finances. Last year it was revealed he had an interest in SGL Engineering Projects which was awarded a number of tenders by the Limpopo government. This year City Press revealed that Malema’ Ratanang Family Trust had been receiving millions of rands from, what he called, “good Samaritans”. A businessman claimed he deposited R200,000 in that trust in exchange for Malema helping him to secure a tender.

Could this latest shot be an attempt by the League to kick up dust to attract journalists’ attention away from Malema’s financial concerns?

Still, some ANC leaders are likely to feel strongly about taking fresh steps against Malema, but they are likely to be opposed by those leaders sympathetic to the young man – and there are a few. It’s up to the party’s powerful national working committee, which meets every Monday, to thrash this out. It remains to be seen if they have the balls to risk the 30 year old’s fury by sparing the rod to spoil the party. DM


Photo: Reuters

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