South Africa, Politics

Analysis: Limpopo elections and the shape of war at Mangaung

By Sipho Hlongwane 23 April 2012

A weekend of disruptions erupted where not one, but two elective conferences for the ANC Youth League took place in Limpopo. Julius Malema’s men held their conference in Limpopo while his detractors held theirs in his home town of Seshego. If ever there was a sign that Malema’s fight is to the death, it is his continued influence in league politics – even though he’s supposed to be sitting on the sideline with the halftime oranges. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

They hadn’t even waited for the body to cool, to borrow that rich Zulu phrase, before the shenanigans in the ANC Youth League began. Last week, we saw top ANCYL leaders contradict each other in public for the first time since their suspended president, Julius Malema, became top dog. This weekend, the Limpopo ANCYL’s congress in Malema’s back yard was marred by more than the usual controversy, with two elective congresses being held and two chairmen being elected.

On Friday, the opening of the conference was conducted by ANC Limpopo chairman Cassel Mathale (a key Malema ally) and addressed by ANCYL secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa (another key ally of Malema). The proceedings were disrupted after the delegates began to call out for Malema. Attempts by Mathale and Magaqa to calm the delegates down failed – until the leaders promised to take the conference to Malema’s Polokwane house.

On Saturday, the provincial ANCYL leadership was elected. Rudzani Ludere was elected as the new provincial chairman. The deputy chairmanship went to Reggie Molokomme, secretary-general to Jacob Lebogo (who is Malema’s lieutenant in Limpopo), deputy secretary-general to Romeo Mokghothle and treasurer general to Kgomotso Kabila Malatji.

However, there was a twist to events even before Friday. A number of branches were denied entry to the Polokwane conference. In retaliation, they went off and held their own conference in Seshego (Malema’s home town) which is just outside Polokwane. At the renegade conference, Boy Mamabolo, a former ally of Malema was elected as provincial chairman.

On Sunday, the ANC in Limpopo issued a statement, condemning the Seshego conference.

“We wish to firmly distance the ANC in the province from the divisive, mischievous actions of a group of so-called ANCYL renegades who are said to have held their own… conference elsewhere in Polokwane,” ANC Limpopo spokesman Makondelele Mathivha said. “If these people are indeed members of the ANCYL, we wish to urge them to desist from creating a negative environment that aims to divide the movement, deliberately causing disharmony and disunity.”

The Seshego conference was a technical blunder on the rebels’ side. Grievances with Malema’s allies aside, a legalistic reading of party rules means the Limpopo ANC is right in its condemnation of the parallel conference, and can sanction the dissidents. It is exactly this rule that allowed Malema to expel opponent Lehlogonolo Masoga in 2010. Masoga held a parallel conference when he was shut out of the main one at Malema’s behest.

What almost saved him was his threat to go to court – it forced Luthuli House to intervene and force Malema to strike a deal. He didn’t, of course, but this knowledge may yet provide a lifeline to Mamabolo and his people. If they threaten to take Ludere and Lebogo to court, Luthuli House will doubtlessly intervene – and perhaps whoever takes over from Malema won’t have the guts to expel the dissidents. 

Meanwhile, back in Polokwane, a number of delegates descended on Malema’s house. According to the Mail & Guardian, Malema then addressed the delegates, flanked by Lebogo, Magaqa, the ANCYL spokesman Floyd Shivambu and ANC provincial secretary Soviet Lekganyane.

Malema told the delegates he was allowed to speak to them because they were at his house and not at an ANC gathering. “If I address you I do so without any fear or favour because this is my house. Nobody, no matter how powerful they are, will tell me you can speak to this delegate or you can’t speak to that delegate. You are not delegates, you are my visitors, my friends – this is your house… Those who think they have control in this house should have the courage to tell me in this house. This is my office,” he said.

He continued, saying the ANC had not only resorted to the disciplinary committee’s “undemocratic means” to get rid of him. “It’s not only the disciplinary committee. They unleashed all state institutions against me. They want to do everything in their power to deal with me. They are welcome to come to this house and arrest me. I have done nothing wrong.”

This massaging of the rules, plus the old tactic of ensuring that those who might cause problems for the incumbent don’t even make it into the conference, is very much in keeping with the strategy of a man who has decided this was the fight to the death.

Unsurprisingly, this sort of development is in keeping with any one-party state. Contestations are never just that, where the loser might live to contest once again. In these systems, it is a fight to the death because the loser either goes to jail or is dead, figuratively and all-too-often literally.

The danger here is that this desperation by Malema’s people in Limpopo to keep the fight going may get translated into ANC politics, with potentially disastrous consequences for the country. Which is not to say that the mothership necessarily needs Malema’s help – we’ve already had a taste of the win-or-die mentality at Polokwane, with Cope as living testimony to what happened to those who lost. Unfortunately a precedent has been set, and Mangaung holds a promise of an even more extreme outcome.

The desperation of the loser within the ANC is nothing new.

Malema’s decision to speak at the conference (because that is exactly how Luthuli House will see it), not to mention the contents of his speech, is another message of defiance to President Jacob Zuma. The objective, once again, is to push Zuma into a corner and provoke him until he lashes out, which is exactly what Malema wants so that he can then claim he’s being treated unfairly.

Certainly, logic would dictate that his decision to address the Limpopo delegates means the disciplinary committee of the ANC would have to contemplate summary expulsion as punishment.

Malema’s political exile from the ANC means that he can’t use his influence in the party to create a wave of support of his own ahead of Mangaung, hence the “outsider” tactic.

But if there’s one thing Malema understands well, it is the power of brute force. He’s often attempted to use physical force to get his way. He and his associates famously tried to bully their way on to the stage at the ANC’s last national general council to force nationalisation of mines to be adopted by the conference as party policy.

We wouldn’t put it past Malema to appear at the Mangaung conference (mostly likely as a former member of the ANC) and then attempt to force himself, and probably thousands of heavies, on to proceedings. The idea would be to have Zuma and his people sacked Malema’s membership and control of the ANCYL reimposed. For now, things are heading in that direction – fast. DM

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Photo: Julius Malema’s membership and control of the ANCYL could be reimposed by force at Mangaung.


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