We've said all along that Julius Malema is clever. We've admired his political cunning, his sense of political theatre and his ability to wake up thousands of previously dormant political souls. But like so many youngsters before him, he flew too high, too fast, too dangerously. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
The staggering aspect of the ANC’s national disciplinary committee of appeal ruling was not its outcome. It’s that the arguments brought by Malema and the other leaders were so weak. Committee chairman Cyril Ramaphosa made that abundantly clear. While Ramahosa did leave Malema a tiny window, it is obvious he will not be allowed back into the party. Still, Ramaphosa wanted to make sure it looked like justice was, at least seen to have been done.
But before we go anywhere, we need to clarify a few things. Firstly, there’s been some serious confusion about whether, on this particular day, Julius Malema is entitled to call himself leader of the ANC Youth League. The confusion started when Cyril Ramaphosa refused to take questions. Not his fault, we can understand that. But this was an obvious point that should have been made clear in his statement. ANC officials took it upon themselves to tell one or two hacks that actually Malema was, now that the judgment had been delivered, formally suspended. Finish and klaar. An “ex-ANC Youth League President” if you like.
The reasoning was Malema had, as part of a plea-bargain arrangement he’d agreed to, been suspended for two years in 2010. That sentence was suspended. If he broke the rules again, that sentence would come into effect and he would be suspended. The upshot of that is that this appeals panel ruling has found him guilty of breaking the rules again. Thus that sentence is effective, even though the entire process is not finished.
If only it were so simple. Then those same officials rang back to say actually, hold on, the appeals panel verdict has to be formally given to the ANC’s national officials. And until the “Top Six” get it, the suspension isn’t official. What! They don’t do Twitter! (I thought they weren’t so keen on the “false knowledge” idea – Ed). Anyway, it now seems that Monday is actually the day when Malema will be formally suspended. Really. We mean it this time. Okay!
Right, now to the nuts and bolts of this decision. Firstly, our nation’s favourite little kitten (what, no more “lion cub”? – Ed) had been warned that his arguments were weak. In fact, what we meant was that they were “naïve” and “absurd”. Ramaphosa rubbished all the main claims – that Malema was the victim of a political plot, that the ANC Youth League could publicly make statements that ran counter to the ANC’s rules, that everyone on the original panel was biased against him, etc. Etc.
What Ramaphosa’s really done here is make damn sure, as the NDC did before him, that the ANC has the right and the will to enforce discipline. If Malema had won, or had been seen to win, then it stood to reason that almost anyone can do almost anything in the ANC and get away with it. No more. The ANC was faced with a situation in which it had to act, and act it did. There’s a reason by Ramaphosa referred to “discipline as a pillar” of the ANC. In retrospect, as soon as he started to paraphrase Derek Hanekom’s comments that the ANC is a “voluntary organisation”, it was clear Malema was not going to win this. The point of course is that the organisation is allowed to throw someone out.
But Ramaphosa has also made sure the ANC is seen to be fair. Malema’s lawyer, Dali Mpofu, has a good legal mind. He also has an astute political nose. You don’t hang around with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela for long without getting a good sense of how the ANC works. So the argument about mitigation worked on two levels. One, it was a legal point that had some weight. And two, the perception of fairness matters in the ANC. As Jacob Zuma has shown us so powerfully over the years, being a victim can really work in your favour.
What Ramaphosa and the other panel members have done is to remove that weapon from Malema’s arsenal. He will now go through the process. The national disciplinary panel will hear arguments in mitigation of sentence. Mpofu will argue that Malema should be given another chance. That he didn’t really mean it when he broke the rules the second time. And that he was somehow a victim of grave injustice because he wasn’t allowed to argue in mitigation of sentence. That will no doubt be claimed to be proof that this is all a dastardly political plot.
Now, let’s look at the arguments in aggravation of sentence. Malema was warned, he was told if he broke the rules again, he would be thrown out. He’s damaged the ANC’s reputation with minority voters. The results of last year’s local government election could be used to prove that. Some of the offenses occurred during his second term as ANC Youth League leader, he can’t claim he was young. He’s over 30, he can’t claim it was youth having its fling. He held a senior leadership position and yet engaged in factional activity. He has damaged South Africa’s reputation and had a very real affect on foreign direct investment.
We could go on. How do you think this is going to end? He’ll be lucky not to be expelled. Permanently.
And it’s going to be very hard for Malema to claim that he’s a victim. He’ll have been given all the chances in the world. And he’ll be outta there. It will also possibly, blow his chances of going it alone clear out of the water.
This is a big weekend in the history of the ANC. It’s going to be seen as a turning point in many ways. This is not just about Malema, it’s about the presidency of Zuma, the hijacking of a complete province, the future of the movement as a non-racial organisation, the future of the movement as a disciplined organisation. But it’s also about much more than that. It’s about whether the mines will be nationalised, whether there will be land expropriation without compensation, whether the banks will be barred from issuing 20-year mortgages. It’s about our very future.
This weekend, things somehow look a little brighter. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.
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