The next two weeks will tell if Julius Malema and his ANC Youth League will survive politically, as evidence mounts party elders are poised to strike while the iron is hot, and slap the young lions with charges that could hurt. CARIEN DU PLESSIS reports.
Things will be tense again in Luthuli House’s corridors on Monday where ANC bigwigs will discuss matters disciplinary at their fortnightly national working committee meeting. A discussion over steps against Julius Malema and his Youth League is set to dwarf the other matters on the agenda, like the party’s centenary celebrations, its million-member drive, and the permanent discussion points like poverty and jobs.
Later in the week, there will be more deliberations as the party’s national executive committee has its quarterly four-day meeting.
Of course, only one person is needed to move charges against Malema, but when dealing with a powerful motor-mouth like him, the ANC might want to seek safety in numbers by first airing this matter thoroughly in its leadership structures (secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who moved the charges against Malema when he was disciplined for the first time 17 months ago, has still not heard the end of it).
There has been no official confirmation that charges are on the way, but Sunday Independent quoted several ANC national executive committee members confirming they were.
From the ANC’s point of view, sooner rather than later would be a good time to strike. In the past two weeks, following the League’s declaration that it would help opposition parties effect a regime change in Botswana, there has been a build-up of anti-Malema momentum within the ANC and even among his own support base Malema’s popularity seems to be on the slide.
A weekend meeting in Rustenburg had to be cancelled because fewer than 100 people turned up in the mining town to hear the mighty young lion roar at a seminar on nationalisation, which was organised two weeks in advance and well advertised on local radio stations. One of Malema’s own lieutenants and a member of the League’s national executive committee, Kabelo Mataboge, is at the helm of party organisational matters in this province as the ANC’s North West secretary, and attributed the poor show to bad organisation.
Elsewhere evidence is mounting that something serious is cooking:
- In at least two statements in the past two weeks the ANC has mentioned the “D”-word ( “ill-discipline”) in relation to the League’s Botswana plans, and complaints about the decline in leadership in the African Union and Southern African Development Community since former president Thabo Mbeki’s departure (of course President Jacob Zuma has now taken over Mbeki’s function in those institutions).
- Last Monday party officials postponed a meeting with the League to consider its transgressions, which shows the ANC thinks the time for talk is over.
- On Saturday, after a comparatively quiet week of polite statements, the Youth League issued an apology for its Botswana statement (but nothing about what it said about the AU and SADC). This came after the League stood by its Botswana plan, defiantly defending, explaining and justifying it for a whole week since announcing it. It is reported the League made the U-turn after counsel from a sympathetic senior ANC leader who must have heard whispers of possible charges.
- Zuma is angry and is said to have chased Malema out of the officials’ meeting last Monday after Malema refused to believe Mantashe when he told them that the induction meeting with the League was off… and has said so in an interview on Sunday with City Press. Zuma, who was supported by the League in his election as ANC leader in 2007 and had been beholden to them since, publicly expressed anger against the League at least twice before, in April last year when he called a press conference to scold Malema for bedevilling Zuma’s mediation efforts in Zimbabwe by saying negative things about the MDC and at the party’s national general council in Durban in September last year when the League tried to bully delegates into accepting nationalisation as a party policy.
- ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu is playing it safe, and denied telling the Sunday Independent Malema would be charged or that the League’s apology won’t be accepted (although he hinted that the apology would probably not “reverse the damage” caused). It was up to the “structures” (the NWC and NEC) to decide this week. He didn’t confirm or deny that charges were on the way. Were the ANC to confirm to journalists that it will charge the Youth League, the League would accuse party leaders of waging factional battles against Malema in the media, thus weakening the ANC’s case.
The list of the Youth League’s transgressions is long:
- Declaring its intention to help the opposition to effect regime change in Botswana, causing diplomatic red faces for ANC leaders and going against ANC policy of respecting the autonomy of other recognised governments.
- Effectively accusing Zuma of not providing leadership in the AU and SADC at all, comparing it to Mbeki’s tenure (Malema was found guilty of sowing divisions in the ANC last year when he overtly compared the leadership of the two, and was given a suspended sentence. If found guilty of the same transgression before April next year, he could be suspended from the party). In the run-up to the Youth League’s conference Malema also said Mbeki was the “best leader” the country’s ever had, while at the same time slamming foreign policy moves by Zuma, such as voting for a no-fly zone over Libya.
- Resolving at its June conference to support former League leader Fikile Mbalula as secretary general next year. The ANC has forbidden any succession debates (to avoid sowing divisions) until it gives the okay, nearer to its elective conference at Mangaung in December next year.
- Attacking leaders like public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba and mining minister Susan Shabangu for stating government policy on the nationalisation of mines. In June the League also attacked deputy science and technology minister Derek Hanekom (who is in charge of the ANC’s land reform committee as well as the disciplinary committee) for tweeting that expropriation without compensation, as called for by the League, was not ANC policy (the provocation of “serious divisions” charge could also be used here).
- Malema telling University of Johannesburg students earlier this month that former president FW de Klerk “remains the enemy”. This could be seen as “sowing .. political intolerance”.
- Malema last week paid his R50,000 fine (in cash, but that’s another story) after being convicted of hate speech and harassment by the Equality Court for saying Zuma’s rape accuser had a “nice time” because she requested breakfast and taxi money, indicating that he’s conceding guilt. “Sowing .. sexism” goes against rule 25 of the ANC’s constitution, and now the ANC has a guilty verdict and a paid fine by which to judge Malema.
- The weekly instalment of newspaper reports on payments into Malema’s Ratanang family trust by people who allegedly benefited from tenders he helped organise, continues (see Sunday Times and City Press). The ANC isn’t a party to act too swiftly on media reports like these and even if someone is found guilty of fraud, as was the case with Tony Yengeni, they’re not necessarily booted out of the party. The party’s constitution forbids “abuse of elected or employed office in the organisation or in the state to obtain any direct or indirect undue advantage or enrichment”. AfriForum has, of course, jumped on the bandwagon again and on Sunday said it would add the new reports on kickbacks to the list of things the organisation wants the Hawks to investigate.
ANC attack strategists might want to divide and rule in the League, separating Malema’s issues from the League’s. Malema’s lieutenants realise that unity is strength and have so far been arguing that, whatever Malema says, he says on behalf of the whole Youth League and the ANC would have to charge all 35 of its national executive committee members – a tactic not dissimilar to one used by Cosatu in 2010, when the talk of ANC NWC thinking of charging Zwelinzima Vavi over his criticism.
Those pushing for charges are set to face fierce resistance, as Malema had no doubt been regrouping and the League has warned that another disciplinary would tear the ANC apart. There were similar warnings last time, though, and the ANC is still more or less standing.
Mthembu explained that the ANC’s top six officials would “guide” the national working committee (which has 31 members, including the top six), who would then “report” to the national executive committee.
At least two in the ANC’s top six are known to be fed up (Zuma and Mantashe), while deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe is hard to call (the League is said to support him for president, but he is a cautious player and wouldn’t want to show his hand just yet, which means he wouldn’t argue overtly in the League’s favour), and treasurer general Mathews Phosa is said to be unlikely to defend Malema against the charges again, as he did last year. Chairwoman Baleka Mbete has in expressed concern there should be a “worthy crop of leaders” for the ANC to hand over to, while deputy secretary general Thandi Modise is difficult to call, but she’s known to be fearless, as she was the one who in April 2010 addressed the press briefing to announce charges against Malema.
Get set for some interesting times. DM
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