Scenes of stone-throwing, T-shirt burning and general revolt outside Luthuli House on Tuesday morning were hardly surprising, although they still caused shock. But is this violence serving ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s case, or is it harming it? By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
The ANC Youth League was angelically quick to condemn the violence around Luthuli House on Tuesday morning, but if youth leader Julius Malema really had that much power, the League would have done the opposite. It would have taken responsibility for it.
In fact, the young lions had unwittingly given the protesters permission to run riot when they pre-emptively washed their hands of what was to happen on the day of Malema’s disciplinary hearing. The protesters had free rein.
Malema ran proceedings with an iron hand at the League’s 24th national congress less than three months ago, where he was unanimously re-elected.
Apart from a late start on the first day, things went frightfully well the days after. Buses, accompanied by metro police, arrived in time for the start of the programme each morning. The congress saw no overnight proceedings and fights (pyjama parties had become a feature of ruling party gatherings), no baring of bums, no throwing of chairs.
In fact, if it wasn’t for Malema’s animated closing speech, the congress would have been disappointingly dull from a news point of view.
Fast forward two months. Malema is in real trouble and among ANC members with close ties to insiders, there is a real feeling that Malema will be suspended from the party this time – most say this will be for five years, at which time the inconvenient youth would have retired from being young.
He had received a suspended sentence for sowing divisions within the party (after unfavourably comparing President Jacob Zuma with his predecessor Thabo Mbeki) and he faces the same charge this time (for doing the same thing). Not suspending him would leave the ANC weaker than ever and strengthen Malema’s position.
Barring a miraculous political solution (which seems almost impossible at this point, because it will be next to impossible to persuade Malema to step down after June’s re-election), and barring a revolt by the party’s national executive committee, Malema will be Youth League president no more.
So he and his League did what they know best in times of trouble – kick up as much dust as they can and take their hands off the reins.
It’s worked for him in the past. When his business dealings with SGL Engineering were reported on, Malema shouted at journalists, made rebellious remarks about Zimbabwe – and ended up being scolded and disciplined by Zuma.
In the ANC’s national general council in Durban in September last year the League flooded commissions and shouted when it felt the ANC didn’t move decisively enough to adopt nationalisation of mines as party policy.
Earlier this year when his business dealings through his Ratanang family trust and On Point engineering were exposed, his League kicked up dust and made the Botswana remarks, which landed him in trouble.
This week at a press conference he conveniently chose not to answer questions on his financial dealings. “You must move with the story, that is not the story anymore,” he said. Objective achieved, perhaps.
So the stone-throwing, burning of images of Zuma and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande, and general trashing of the city centre are typical latter-day Youth League antics, and, in the absence of garnering enough support within the ANC to stop the disciplinary from happening, this represents a raw flexing of the muscle for the youngsters.
Of course, the League learnt this chaotic behaviour from its current elders in the ANC in the run-up to the party’s conference in Polokwane in 2007, when Mbeki was voted out.
As an SACP leader put it to this journalist on Sunday: “The rotten eggs of Polokwane are now hatching.”
For all their militant talk and songs about the brave soldier Solomon Mahlangu, the League has been quick to disown the violence.
“The ANC Youth League will never be associated with unruly, disruptive elements and agents provocateurs who want to portray genuine support and solidarity gathering in a bad light,” the unsigned statement said.
It also called for restraint by police and security officials. At least these officers, with their water cannons and (alleged) rubber bullets, have so far abided by the League’s “instructions”.
In a statement on Tuesday which seemed like a déjà vu moment from before Polokwane, the ANC “strongly condemns as totally unacceptable (the) wanton acts of criminality and hooliganism” outside its headquarters by “an unruly mob of people claiming to be ‘ANC Youth League members’.” (those quotation marks indicate just the slightest bit of disownment).
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe at an impromptu press conference disowned the protesters even further when he said the last time the party had seen such violence was when IFP supporters marched on its headquarters in the 1990s.
It is likely that the party’s disciplinary committee would take a similar view, and although the League’s show of force was sure to have shocked them (all indications before Tuesday were that the ANC was very, very afraid), it would hardly make Malema a better person in their eyes. On Tuesday, MK Veterans Associations, SACP and Cosatu denounced the violence and blamed the Youth League for orchestrating it.
Although many of the party’s disciplinarians are from the 1976 generation, and although they might be familiar with youthful rebellion, the fact that the League’s members have turned against the ANC itself and burnt images of its leaders, will be regarded as unforgivable.
The ANC has recently admitted that it had let go many of its disciplinary values on the road to Polokwane, and the leaders would be keen to make this right.
It’s going to be a challenge for the ANC to do just this and to deal with the cases of violence on Tuesday morning if it’s not clear who organised it. A mass disciplinary would only make the party look mean.
The ANC Youth League has called an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the scenes outside. Sadly, we would have expected these leaders of tomorrow to have been better prepared. Though we’re not terribly surprised either. DM
Photos: Phillip de Wet for iMaverick
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