The vultures have been circling for a while now, waiting for the lions to leave before swooping in on the man who seemed – for several years – to have the loudest voice in the country. With growing speculation that Julius Malema will be formally expelled from the ANC this week, the waiting seems to be over. But this is the time to ask some hard questions about timing, about why this has taken so long and what it says about the abuse of power to satisfy political needs. By ALEX ELISEEV.
Malema talked up a storm this weekend outside his Polokwane, Limpopo, home. The embattled ANC Youth League leader defied his latest “Zuma is a dictator” suspension and vowed to return to politics in several years’ time. He claimed he had been defeated by a group of plotters who don’t represent the entire party, and brushed off questions about his tax affairs, saying that anyone who wanted to investigate him knows exactly where to find him.
At the same time, more and more reports emerged about his possible appointment to the leadership of the International Union of Socialist Youth, which would be a political lifeline, albeit a thin one compared to the power he once wielded.
While all this was going on, most of this week’s Sunday newspapers carried reports about Malema facing an ever-increasing risk of being hunted down by the taxman. The image they painted was of an army of soldiers who were done lying in wait next to Malema’s castle and were on the verge of storming the gates.
City Press reported that Malema is now facing a R10-million bill from the South African Revenue Service, relating to his Ratanang family trust. It also carried his defiant response, a claim that his detractors have “unleashed all state agencies against me because they want to silence me”. He reportedly taunted those involved in the probe, saying: “They know my address”.
The Sunday Independent revealed that Malema’s allies and business associates had been summoned to appear before a judicial enquiry into his alleged tax evasion. It spoke of Malema being the “spider at the centre of the tax web” and the possibility that any criminal activity unearthed during the enquiry will be handed over to the police.
Reports about a high-level police investigation into Malema’s affairs have been around for some time, along with his continued assurances that he has nothing to hide.
After a long and fierce chase, Malema has been caught and mauled by the top lions of the ANC. And while he utters his last few words, the young lions have begun to bite and scratch each other in a fight to replace him. Leaders who once stood firmly behind him, vowing that no ANCYL leader would ever be removed, recently threw this scrap into the public arena.
To judge just how paralysed the league is, one simply needs to look at the tragic story of the gang-raped Soweto girl, whose ordeal was filmed and distributed. As South Africa wrestled with its own demons and expressed its outrage, the league lay low. Its spokeswoman, Magdelene Moonsamy, was dragged on to a radio talk show and mouthed off some standard lines to condemn what had happened. But instead of really taking on the issue – a perfect fit for a youth organization – it put out statements denouncing leaders who spoke out about the gaping divisions in the top structure.
The leadership battle will pass. What’s more intriguing is the timing of the attacks on Malema. Why would SARS need to wait until the bitter end to strike? Why do the Hawks wait for the political predators to move off before swooping in? And is what’s happening now a final attempt to neutralise Malema through various institutions that are supposed to be independent?
Many speculated during Jackie Selebi’s trial that he was only prosecuted and convicted because the political winds had changed, that suddenly he found himself with too few friends in high places. The nightmare endured by the Scorpions in gathering evidence – and the perceived interference from the most powerful office in the country – is well documented.
If you need a more recent example, the story of crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli should suffice. Week after week, more damning evidence floats to the surface about a man who has been accused of murder and of looting the police’s secret service fund. And yet, the spears and the arrows just bounce off.
Over the past few years, South Africa has watched as details emerged about the abuse of power and the country’s institutions, and the timing of that abuse, in the battle between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. This created an impression of a sinister modus operandi that was taking hold in a young democracy that is only as strong as its institutions and the people who run those institutions.
These are dangerous precedents, an impression that criminal cases can be timed and used to settle political scores and eliminate enemies. Allowing this impression to fester can only lead to a fear of lawlessness and further loss of faith in the system.
The words of acting police commissioner Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi slipped by almost unnoticed last week, revealing what has long been suspected. While addressing Parliament, Mkhwanazi reportedly said that “powers beyond us” are at play in determining what cases can be investigated and which dockets are off limits. The Institute for Security Studies immediately flagged this, saying the police chief should have the freedom to investigate any case he wishes. The ISS said the commissioner’s words are deeply worrying.
So, is Malema right in saying that his political enemies have set the dogs on him in a bid to silence him once and for all? If so, this should send chills down our spines.
Alternatively, Malema’s political demise could simply free up those with information to release their grip on it – or even to volunteer it – to investigators. Nothing about this should surprise us because it happens the world over, in any country where political rivalries exist.
While the investigation into Malema’s finances has been brewing for some time and is much needed in a country plagued by corruption, the timing of its climax is indicative of the problem South Africa faces in being seen as a country where invisible strings pull on democratic institutions and undermine the rule of law.
Many will be happy to see Malema investigated and even prosecuted. But will this be seen as a valiant effort to once and for all remove a politician who used his political muscle to influence big money and amass great personal wealth, or will it go down in history as the time when using state resources for political means became routine?
The signs are not good. DM
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine