Malema and Zuma go eyeball to eyeball – and only one of them can win

By Stephen Grootes 30 August 2011

Trying to predict the outcome of a process we can’t actually see feels a bit like betting on a five-day cricket test at the end of day four without knowing what the score is. But like the Proteas can win, lose or draw, there are broad outcomes that are worth taking a look at. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

There’s going to be plenty happening outside Luthuli House today. Which is beside the point because the real action will be taking place inside. It’s going to be frustrating as hell. Imagine a court case which could literally decide the future of the country, but no one is allowed inside to watch it. (If you think this has never happened in South African history, you’d be wrong the talks that created the Constitution of the Union of South Africa in 1910 were held in secret too).

Let’s take what is probably the most likely: Malema loses, Zuma wins. In this scenario, the scale of Malema’s loss will matter. But let’s for the sake of argument say he’s out of the ANC. First, the most public part of the anti-Zuma project, such as it is, is gone. Malema will be out in the wilderness, where the only person who will take his call is Mbhazima Shilowa. He will be an ordinary citizen, and no longer a public figure – albeit an ordinary citizen with a rather long list of people interested in his financial affairs.

But Zuma will be the man in charge. Suddenly he will have political space to move, he’ll know he’s a shoo-in for a second term, so that worry is off his back, and he can turn do what we pay him for. Governing. If Zuma wins this hands-down, expect a cabinet reshuffle. And it would be one in which he sets the decks for the next few years. So out goes Sicelo Shiceka and anyone else Zuma would like to get rid of. In would come people who’ve stuck by him through the tougher times. Once the reshuffle was done, he would be able to spend more time on his priorities and his pet projects. So instead of the man who said just after sweeping the board at Polokwane that he was “just an empty vessel” for the members of the ANC to speak through, he would actually now be the de facto leader of the ANC.

A side effect of this would be that people who currently appear to be opposed to him, the Fikile Mbalulas of the world, would suddenly find it in their best interests to appear very supportive of him. In a way, we could see Zuma turning into a president more like Mbeki. At the same time, Cosatu, who said two months ago that they would like to see Zuma “do a Lula”, and emulate the former Brazilian president who had a terrible start to his presidency but a successful second term, might think they may live to see it happen. And mine nationalisation would be a nightmare that actually never happened.

Then we have option two. A draw. Somehow Malema wriggles not completely out of it all, but manages to bring the whole thing to a standstill. It’s probably in his best interests to play for a draw, because he’s unlikely to win convincingly. The result would be a continuation of this holding pattern, where the sniping and the bitterness continue. There would be coded insults, and uncoded hostility. Both sides would continue to try to drum up support against the other. But it would be more open than before, because now we all know that Malema and Zuma can’t stand each other. A draw here would really result in a loss for Zuma over time. And he’ll know that. It would look like Malema has won. And in politics, if you look weak, you are.

And this brings us to our third option. Malema wins (somehow), Zuma loses. If this was to occur – the definition of winning and losing could be open to interpretation here – well, Malema would suddenly be de facto the most powerful person in the country. He would have openly defied the President, and not been punished. In this high stakes game, Zuma would be finished. Oh, he would try to struggle on. There would be very tentative governance though, with lots of consultation and no movement unless all of Luthuli House agrees. We’d probably be stuck with Shiceka as a sick co-operative governance minister through until 2013, and nothing would move on. In fact, were Malema to be seen to win hands down, Zuma might find it very difficult to even finish his ANC term as leader.

The short term result of a Malema victory would be huge instability. Can you imagine being a Cabinet minister in charge of say, mining, with an eye to your own political future, and the President orders you to do something? Who would you listen to: him, yesterday’s man, or Malema, the person who really runs things? There would also, no doubt, be a rear-guard action by the likes of Gwede Mantashe and co, who would try  weakening Malema at every opportunity. The ANC with Malema being seen to run the show would be a very different place. He’s not the most democratic of people, and so would probably try to stifle debate within the party. The net result of that, while appearing like it would bring in some decisiveness, would be disastrous. Bear in mind how the Youth League is now in Malema’s own image. He would obviously try doing it  to the ANC as a whole.

There would also be other ambitious people who would sniff that, if they didn’t act, they would lose their chance of higher office forever, because of Malema’s relative youth. And so they would also club together to bring him down. Add to this his own combustible temper, and you have a very heady political mixture indeed. And of course, you would want to sell your mining shares immediately.

In the end though, this match, while scheduled for just one day, could well turn out to go to five days. Malema is likely to prolong things as much as possible. The real issue here is the political will of the people on the ANC’s national disciplinary panel. How keen are they to go the distance, to actually do something this time? And if you look at how quickly things are moving at the moment, one can’t help but think that all the night vigils in the world aren’t going to be enough. DM

 


 

 


 

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