ANC’s Malema dilemma: Damned if they don’t do it right

By Carien Du Plessis 30 August 2011

The ANC’s top leaders are in a double bind. Should they not expel ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, he’ll come back to laugh in their faces until his tummy hurts. Should they kick him out, young people might voice their frustrations in BBM-fuelled London-style riots instead. CARIEN DU PLESSIS looks at why the process has to be “on point”.

In the disciplinary matter against ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, the means must be seen to justify the end, especially because most people are already under the impression that the ANC’s intention to get rid of Malema is really the end that justifies the means.

Many middle-class Malemaphobics might be so happy at the prospect of having him quiet that they don’t care how the ANC gets rid of him, as long as they do it.

But that would be a mistake. The trick for the ANC is that if – or increasingly it seems like when – Malema is found guilty for a second time of sowing divisions (he got a suspended sentence for this last year) and is suspended from the party, he and his supporters must be convinced that he had a free and fair trial, and that his side of the story was afforded a proper airing.

That is perhaps why a big shot like advocate Patric Mtshaulana, a legal heavyweight and a long-time party member, had agreed to represent Malema.

It is unknown whether the ANC has employed as “prosecutor” anybody approximating Mtshaulana’s professional standing, but the party’s disciplinary committee will have to be very clear of its case for the charges to hold.

In the past two weeks leading up to the case, there had been numerous questions over whether the charges against Malema will stand up. On the eve of the hearing, the ANC’s officials, who brought the charges, issued a statement confirming that they were going ahead with the process (not that there was doubt about it) and that Malema and his league must “subject” themselves to the “process”. Incidentally, neither President Jacob Zuma nor his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe, who are part of the ANC’s top six officials, would be in the country for the hearing – they’re both abroad on well-timed state visits.

Malema has been charged for bringing the ANC into disrepute by expressing plans to effect regime change in Botswana, disrupting a meeting of the ANC’s top officials three weeks ago, sowing divisions by saying the AU and SADC are worse off without Mbeki, suggesting that his previous hearing was influenced by a factional agenda and for saying, before the elections, that whites were “criminals” who “stole” our land.

Five other league leaders were charged alongside him, but the fact that they have no previous conviction and the nature of their charges (fewer than his) imply that they might be rapped over the knuckles at most.

Malema’s first – and easiest – line of defence against his charges is in procedure.

His defenders said he should ask disciplinary committee members like Deputy Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom to recuse themselves because they have made strong utterances about Malama in the past (Hanekom, who also heads the ANC’s land reform commission, tweeted in June that Malema’s call for expropriation without compensation wasn’t ANC policy).

So the party’s top six have been very careful in managing the disciplinary process by giving the media only the need-to-know information, and by not even sharing much with the party’s national working committee and national executive committee (NEC).

But even on Monday, concerns were expressed in a Western Cape ANC leadership meeting that the charges were illegal because they should have been agreed to by the NEC.

An appendix to the ANC’s constitution about disciplinary procedure sets straight any ambiguities about this matter in the constitution itself.

A seemingly composed Malema, whose large, darting eyes betrayed uncertainty over his future on Monday at a press conference, already launched his first attack on the disciplinary committee by saying it was “very unfortunate” that the party told the media about the “time and venue” of the internal process at all.

He seemed resigned to the fact that these could be his last days in the ANC, and that he might not be part of the party as it celebrates its centenary next year.

“We can’t go into the centenary of the ANC divided. We want a solution that will see the ANC united towards the centenary. Everything we do, we should be worried about the unity of the ANC,” he said.

But he also very dramatically said if he was to “go down”, he wouldn’t want those representing him to “go down” with him – they had to continue with his work and propagating the League’s call for nationalisation.

Malema has certainly, in between smatterings of his quirky, idiosyncratic brand of Malemalogic, expressed uncomfortable truths about race, poverty and youth, and there is a fear among some in the ANC that if young people could not make themselves heard through Malema, they would use other means.

This could involve taking to the streets haphazardly, using social media like Twitter and the cheap power of BlackBerry’s messenger to incite each other to riot aimlessly.

Some might, however, argue, that these riots are already a feature of the South African landscape in the form of “service delivery” protests, often driven by young, energetic and unemployed people.

There is also the question of how much real support Malema has outside of the few thousand League members his officials could organise during June’s conference, which they controlled frightfully well and tightly.

Already disgruntled members from his home province Limpopo have asked Zuma, in an open letter on the eve of the hearing, to dissolve the province’s leadership, which had been fiercely supportive of the leader.

Tuesday’s crowds – or not – outside Luthuli House would tell, where a precedent for sympathetic vigils had already been set by Zuma’s supporters in 2009, when corruption charges against him were finally withdrawn.

Then the support was a few hundred strong, and grew to thousands later. Prison rights activist and convicted criminal Golden Miles Bhudu was at Zuma’s vigil, and has already shown up at Malema’s on Monday, in chains.

The fear of Luthuli House elders was, on the eve of the hearing, measurable in the rolls of barbed wire barriers around party headquarters, the presence of crowd-cooling water cannons and the reassuring contingent of cops with rubber bullet guns in the streets around the place.

Nothing was left to chance or wireless technology. DM

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