Friends are few, and the Youth League apologises

By Carien Du Plessis 13 August 2011

A seminar on mine nationalisation would have given ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema a platform to please-explain and cool the ANC’s wrath ahead of Monday’s meeting, as speculation of disciplinary action grows. But CARIEN DU PLESSIS arrived in Rustenburg to find that less than 100 people had turned up to hear the firebrand - and the League apologised for its Botswana blunder by email.

After standing its ground for two weeks and fighting to defend its stance, the ANC Youth League apologised for and withdrew its statement that it wanted to establish a “Botswana Command Team” to help opposition parties in that country defeat President Ian Khama’s ruling Botswana Democratic Party.

“We withdraw the statement and apologise because we note that the leadership of the ANC took serious exception on (sic) the statement and classified that statement as transgression (sic) of ANC Constitution and policies,” the League’s statement, issued by spokesman Floyd Shivambu on behalf of its national executive committee, said.

“The ANC Youth League will nevertheless discuss internally the deeper political and ideological considerations that made us make these statements with the view and intention of establishing common ground and agreement with the leadership of the ANC. The ANC Youth League has never and will never define itself outside the policy confines and directives of the ANC, and will whenever expected be available to listen to political and organisational guidance from the leadership.”

This is a lot, coming from a body which has stood its ground defiantly for two weeks, repeating and explaining its intentions regarding Botswana to all who cared to listen, proclaiming repeatedly that it was “autonomous” and that the ANC should leave it alone. Plus, in the statement, the League promises some soul-searching to boot.

It almost looks as if the League is pre-empting disciplinary charges against it – increasingly likely – as well as a sanction which might include political schooling.

The ANC is set to meet with the Youth League on Monday (neither secretary general Gwede Mantashe nor spokesman Jackson Mthembu could be reached by phone for comment on Saturday), a week after the ANC’s top six leaders cancelled a scheduled meeting with the League’s newly-elected (at its conference two months ago) 35-member national general council.

The ANC said in a statement it realised “that some of the issues that were to be raised with the ANCYL leadership are transgressions that may lead to disciplinary action”. That could have meant that (a) the ANC wanted to buy time to decide what to do, (b) there are divisions within the top leadership about what to do, or (c) ANC disciplinarians are busy formulating charges against the League and/or Malema.

Indications are that the seniors in the party have been getting increasingly peeved with the young man (insiders say even ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa, who defended Malema at his hearing last year, wouldn’t repeat the favour this time) and feel something has to be done, party spin doctors are loathe to talk about the internal processes in the party as yet. It is, however, clear that something’s cooking. For one thing, the League statements this week have been rather colourless, featuring not even one of its characteristic expletives, despite Malema’s desperately defiant stance at a meeting at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus the week before (when Malema still believed he had a fighting chance). And now the humble, if not sincere, apology.

Malema’s friends seem to be getting fewer too in these dark days.

The Rustenburg Civic Centre, where Malema was billed to speak on Saturday, was supposed to have been full up to the point of a stampede, ANC North West secretary Kabelo Mataboge (who is also on the Youth League’s NEC) explained to the less than 100 (by now unimpressed) people who bothered to turn up.

Three hours after Saturday’s 10:00 seminar on the nationalisation of mines was supposed to have started, Mataboge announced it was being cancelled because the ANC’s regional leaders did not tell the more than 100 branches here about the meeting even though they said they did. “You know the president of the Youth League has the capacity to fill Orlando Stadium alone,” Mataboge said.

The miners who are supposed to make up the ANC’s biggest constituency in town, apparently had better things to do with their Saturday. Malema, who was on his way to Rustenburg already, turned whoever’s fancy car he’s driving at the moment, around and back to Johannesburg, or, more likely, he pointed the nose towards Polokwane where he was said to have been headed after the Rustenburg meeting.

The League kindly issued a statement to coincide with Mataboge’s announcement, saying Malema’s address “will not happen due to other commitments”. In fact, it said it twice in the same paragraph.

It was a bad end to a foul week for Malema and his league, but it is difficult to say whether the empty hall was due to the ANC’s North West leaders messing up their mobilisation again, or Malema’s friends deserting him ahead of possible disciplinary charges for the things he and his organisation have said in recent months (the threat of aiding the opposition in Botswana to effect regime change having been the last straw). Heck, it could even be that some big businessman had promised money to pay for buses to get ANC members to the Rustenburg Civic Centre, and then changed his (or her) mind on Saturday morning.

If Malema has indeed overplayed his hand, showing support for him now would be like singing “Dubul’ iBhunu” solo at an AWB gathering (let’s imagine that the AWB can indeed itself nowadays attract more than 10 people). Somewhat suicidal.

Malema has a suspended sentence hanging over his head from last year, when he compared President Jacob Zuma with his predecessor Thabo Mbeki. Malema could easily be charged with this again, because he had continued this comparison in speeches over the past few months, although in a slightly more subtle manner. If found guilty again, the party’s over for him.

The Botswana issue would be a little more difficult, because the League claimed it was a decision by its whole NEC, which means all of them would have to be charged. And besides, they have now apologised. But the ANC could easily separate the charges and charge Malema for the one offence and the NEC for the other (the NEC members could easily then be rapped over the knuckles with mandatory political education or something – while Malema would be history).

Back to Saturday’s meeting. The troubles for the ANC in North West started exactly at the point when they should have stopped – in February when it elected new provincial leaders to replace a task team imposed by the party’s big bosses after the previous provincial executive committee was dissolved 17 months before because of trouble. Two weeks later this committee, which consists of leaders who don’t all come from the same camp, barely half-filled the Royal Bafokeng World Cup Stadium to hear big names like Zuma, Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi, the SACP’s Blade Nzimande, and artists like Chomee launch the ANC’s local government elections manifesto. Insiders blamed it on divisions and a general disaffection with the ANC’s current leadership among the fairly well-educated locals.

Mataboge blamed Saturday’s bad turn-out on a busy constituency and not a snub by ANC members. “Rustenburg is a cosmopolitan town and the type of people here are engaged in different aspects of life.  We will have to look at timing. People here work in the mines, it is highly industrialised.”

In addition to Malema, Vavi and Nzimande were also billed to address the meeting, as well as the Chamber of Mines. But none arrived on Saturday. Public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba was also invited, but he declined due to other commitments, Mataboge said. (Wisely so. After what the league had said about Gigaba recently, he’d be safer far away from the young lions’ den.)

Malema and his team now have the whole of Sunday to stew in their own juices before facing their fate next week. DM

Photo: Reuters.



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