Julius Malema. Yes, him. It’s difficult to think of someone who has made as many enemies as he has in such a short time. Okay, maybe Jimmy Manyi. Or perhaps, going back a bit, Butana Khompela. But when it comes to the sheer speed of creating enemies, and thus friends of your earlier enemies but not necessarily friends of your own, Malema is in a class of his own. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
The enemies, it would seem, are getting louder, sensing perhaps, that there is blood in the water. And at the same time, some of his friends are themselves turning up the volume. Over the weekend Malema formally disbanded the provincial executive committee of the KwaZulu-Natal league. It was expected, but it’s more evidence of Malema’s enemy-making ability. Quite a way to start the week in which his disciplinary hearing resumes – and his political career could end.
Mthandeni Dlungwana is not a name most us will have heard before last week. He is, or was, depending on your political allegiance and how you interpret the ANC’s constitution, the chair of the KZN ANC Youth League. But he sounds like Lindiwe Mazibuko when he says “Young people in South Africa are fed up with how Julius and his crew have been running the African National Congress Youth League”. But wait, there’s more, “It is high time that young people in South Africa rise up and reject Julius Malema and his people”. It’s a great sound bite. But it’s not rehearsed, it’s a symptom of the very real anger that Dlungwana and, presumably, the people around him are feeling towards Malema at the moment.
This is to be expected from a political leader whose provincial leadership has just been disbanded. But it’s also the most fiery and direct response we’ve had to Malema from any of the youngsters he’s put out. When Lehlogonolo Masoga was done out of the chairmanship of the League in Limpopo, there was plenty of anger, but nothing quite that direct.
The difference of course is that Dlungwana will have a hotline to the leaders of the senior ANC in KZN, and they are sitting pretty at the moment as they lead the biggest province in the party. And what’s more, they have a hotline to one of the best speakers of formal “high” Zulu there is. The other reason is that this, to most observers, is an open and shut case. Everyone knows why Malema is doing this. It’s because the League in KZN, like its elders in that province, is going to support Jacob Zuma at that little shindig in Mangaung next year. Malema is not.
Dlungwana says he’s written a letter to Gwede Mantashe, the incumbent of the office bearing the temporary sign “secretary-general” in Luthuli house. As its renovations continue, he is likely to have looked at it and sighed. And smiled. And then sighed again. If Mantashe acts in Dlungwana’s favour, he’s going to look conflicted. If he doesn’t, he’ll lose another province to his dear young comrade, Julius.
When this happened with Limpopo’s Masoga, it was kicked to Kgalema Motlanthe to deal with. Mantashe probably won’t make that mistake again. Somehow, in the same way that a ball pops up on the Springbok side of the ruck along with that winning smile of Heinrich Brussow, Malema will be seen to win if Motlanthe is allowed to control the process. But Mantashe is nothing if not a master of the dark arts of the political scrum, he’ll come up with something. And he’ll have plenty of help, as KZN provincial leaders are unlikely to take this lying down. A glance at voting numbers will show you that KZN is currently first and foremost in the ANC. Limpopo, from where Malema hails, is nowhere close.
But then over the weekend, we had the re-emergence of that well-known mutual appreciation society involving Malema and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Madikizela-Mandela received the Ubuntu Award from the National Heritage Council on Friday and the League gushed thusly: “… honouring Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela confirms her status as a revolutionary, freedom fighter and a humanist… indeed Mama Winnie Mandela deservedly joins heroes like Nelson Mandela, Kenneth Kaunda and Fidel Castro”. At the awards dinner, she returned the raw emotion saying publicly to Malema, “No other leader of the youth has gone through what you have”. Firstly, if you’re a veteran of the ’76 riots, I apologise that you had to read that. Clearly two whole disciplinary hearings is the worst possible thing that a young person has gone through in the history of the world ever.
But never mind all of that, obviously there’s a temptation to label this as Madikizela-Mandela slamming the ANC. And we have more reports – but no confirmation as yet – that Tokyo Sexwale is going to be Malema’s “ace” in his disciplinary hearing. Mantashe will not be alarmed. It’s well known that Madikizela-Mandela was really responsible for Malema’s upbringing, politically at any rate. When she talks to him, she’s talking about her son, and mothers tend to lament any ill-treatment their children suffer. And when he returns the favour, well, who wouldn’t want to compare their mom to Fidel Castro?
Sexwale is a slightly different matter. It’s been open secret for ages that he’s been backing, possibly even bankrolling, Malema. But these reports could be difficult for him, because he’s being publicly outed as a Malema supporter. And the investors he still bumps into from time to time may have a few issues to discuss with him somewhere between the 13th and the 14th holes. But what’s really unclear here is what Sexwale will bring to the process. What does he know that no one else does? Surely, not much. He can talk about the history of the ANC, but he’s certainly not as expert on that subject as say, Zuma or Thabo Mbeki before him. And he’s never really been a big player in the League’s politics either. So it’s really just a gesture of support.
When the disciplinary process against Malema started, it seemed the political power balance was against him. He simply didn’t have the numbers in the national executive committee to stay in the party. Nothing much has changed since then; it still looks bleak for the Young Lion. And while it seemed at first that prolonging the agony was going to work in his favour, now so many other people in the League and elsewhere are spotting their chance, that it seems to just be getting worse for him. And that pushes him into making mistakes. He’s young, disbanding the KZN League no doubt seemed like the right decision at the time.
But it could well rebound on him. And Mthandeni Dlungwana will be waiting. DM
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