Analysis: How do you solve a problem like Malema?

By Carien Du Plessis 10 August 2011

Defiant voices in the ANC Youth League say they “don’t need no castigation”, but many adults in their mother body are now seriously fed-up with the kids. CARIEN DU PLESSIS looks at the precarious balance of forces and the options ANC leaders have.

ANC Youth League leaders will be watching their phones closely on Wednesday for word from ANC officials after the ruling party guys cancelled a meeting with the League on Monday at the last minute.

Another meeting might be scheduled, where the “non-controversial” issues would be discussed separately from “transgressions that might lead to disciplinary action”. Or the ANC’s top dogs might decide to stuff all niceties and summon Malema with or without the League’s leaders to a disciplinary hearing. Or they might simply inform Malema that he is suspended (a friend of a source of a source said this would be the case).

The young motor mouth still has the suspended sentence from last year hanging over his head, which means he’d be suspended if found guilty of sowing divisions in the ANC again. ANC leaders say he’s done many things over the past 12 months which could warrant this.

And with less than a year-and-a-half to go before the party’s next elective conference in Mangaung, the ANC is running out of time to act, should it choose to.

ANC Women’s League president Angie Motshekga has become the latest ruling party leader to speak out against Malema and his posse. It is not often that the women of the party speak, and if they do, it is (a) a ponderous matter, and/or (b) in defence of Zuma.

In Motshekga’s case it was both. She told a dinner party in Polokwane on the eve of Women’s Day that it was wrong for the League to continue defying its mother body.

Of late the League has been kicking up dust like mad following exposés in various newspapers about Malema’s questionable financial dealings and family trust fund. The kids last Sunday announced their plans to assist opposition parties in Botswana to effect a regime change there, they handed a resolution from their June conference to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe last week stating that they want sports minister Fikile Mbalula to replace him next year, they dissed all and sundry, including public enterprises minister and former youth leader Malusi Gigaba, for saying anything even remotely critical of nationalisation and they continued saying what a great president Thabo Mbeki was (implying not so subtly that Jacob Zuma sucks).

Motshekga, ever the cautious politician, is not the first one in the ANC to speak out against the League in the past week. The ruling party’s statement last Monday condemning the League’s Botswana plans, repeated by Mantashe a day or two later, and then talk on Monday by ANC officials of the ground being prepared for steps against the League, would have given her courage to speak out.

There was also Lindiwe Zulu, Zuma’s advisor on international affairs and member of the ANC’s national executive committee, who told the Sunday Times on the record that the League’s comments were causing diplomatic embarrassment and the kindergarten really should be disciplined.

Following these, Motshekga’s condemnation of the League shows that there is a body of ANC leaders that will shield Zuma from rebellion if his officials decided to act against Malema.
This support will be important, as Zuma would have to bear the brunt of the League’s bile. It happened last time, after Zuma scolded the League for making life difficult for him with its pronouncements about Zimbabwe. Malema at a press conference soon after concluded: “In politics there are no permanent friends or enemies,” signalling that the League, which had helped bring Zuma to power, would support him no longer (unless, of course, he stops thinking that he’s the boss).

Steps against the League would have been easier for the ANC if its leaders were a homogenous bunch, but as it is, Malema has allies in high places. If and when the anti-Malema lobby wins the debate about acting against the League, the next step for the ANC would be to figure out how to do this.

League leaders argue that their decision about Botswana was taken by all 35 members on its national executive committee and, seeing this committee takes decisions on behalf of the League, every one of the organisation’s members should be disciplined.

The conference resolution on Mbalula would, similarly, have been taken by about 5,000 delegates, acting on behalf of the League, meaning thousands would have to be called to order.
Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi says theoretically the ANC could be spiteful and disband the League’s entire leadership – the rules allow for this. But this could be seen as too harsh by party members and could spark a rebellion in the provinces, almost all of which are led by secretaries who are from the Youth League.

They could suspend Malema for a year or two, and threaten to expel him should he be engaged in “counter-revolutionary” activities from the outside. This could keep him frightened enough to obey, Matshiqi said.

He reckons doing nothing is too big a risk for Zuma to take, because he is then certain to lose support from moderates within the ANC, in addition to the support he’s already lost from the League and its ilk.

Matshiqi said Malema is image-wise currently in a weak position and the leadership elected at the organisation’s June conference are a bunch of lightweights, in politics as much as in physique.

He traces the problem of ill-discipline within the ANC back to the party’s 2007 Polokwane conference, where leaders (including Zuma) allowed the League to break party rules, by intimidating known Mbeki supporters, talking openly about succession and by sowing divisions by playing off leaders against each other, by, for instance, wearing T-shirts with Zuma’s face on so that Zuma could win the contest. Subsequently the League reminded Zuma that he was at their mercy, seeing that they put him where he is today.

It’s up to Zuma to reclaim his power as party leader, Matshiqi says.

There is some fear that, should the party kick Malema out, he could use his freedom from party rules to negotiate votes in dark corners ahead of the party’s conference next year in Mangaung.

In elective conferences it’s often more of a matter of getting your supporters to the conference (with the help of, say, provincial secretaries), than getting majority support within the ANC.

But he would have to work hard to create some kind of a platform for himself outside the party (Matshiqi reckons this is impossible: “Malema is the fish and the ANC is the water. The fish cannot live outside the water, but the water can exist without the fish.”), and if he were to overplay his hand by challenging the ANC too much, he would struggle to portray himself as a martyr.

Ditto if state agencies were released upon him, investigated and prosecuted him for getting a little too involved in state tenders (as recent reports in the City Press and Mail & Guardian suggest).

Of course one of the worst things that could happen to Malema right now is a deployment to Parliament. He said so himself. There he would be forced to declare his assets, he would be open to scrutiny by the institution’s ethics committee, he would be subject to the discipline of the ANC caucus and he wouldn’t have quite as much time on his hands as he has now.
There was an attempt to send him to Parliament after the 2009 elections, but he declined (unusual in a party where leaders are known to humbly submit to deployments), and there seems to be a recognition among ANC leaders that he should rather be pushing youth issues full-time.

Gigaba, who was League leader from 1996 to 2004, emerged very much subdued after he became MP in 1999. He resigned Parliament in 2001 in time for the start of his third term in the League.

It is yet to be seen of Zuma will have another “NGC moment”  when he put his foot down and called the League into line at the party’s national general council last year.
In whichever way the party decides to roll its dice, it’s going to require the wisdom of Solomon and a calculated gamble to work this one out. DM

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Photo: Reuters.


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