South Africa, Politics

What political future without his nemesis, Jacob Zuma?

By Stephen Grootes 16 November 2016

Julius Malema is back where he feels he belongs. In the news, creating headlines, setting the agenda. Last week he claimed that he was not “calling for the slaughter of white people. At least for now”. Yesterday, the Economic Freedom Fighters tried to compete with the ANC to take political authority over a horrible case involving two white men who forced a black man into a coffin. In between all of this, Malema has appeared to up the ante, to try to create more of a scene. While it may seem scary and loud, in fact it may be a sign of desperation. Because he may be about to lose the source of much of his political power – President Jacob Zuma. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Malema’s comments outside the Newcastle Magistrates Court last week were shocking by almost any standard. One should simply not put the word “slaughter” in the same sentence with any group of people. Ever. And particularly in this country, with its racially charged history, and its enduring economic apartheid reality.

Malema’s exact quote was this: “We are not calling for the slaughtering of white people. At least for now. What we are calling for is the peaceful occupation of land.”

It has been the cue for an outcry – bishops, other politicians and the Professionally Worried have all got in on the act. But in fact, this has been quite a muted reaction. Several years ago, when he was still the ANCYL leader, Malema ended up in the Equality Court for singing the song Dubula’Ibhunu, or as it has been translated, “shoot the Boer”. Back then, there was very real outrage. It dominated the news agenda for months, just as the ANC needed a boost ahead of the 2011 local government elections.

There is a huge difference between then and now. Then, the ANC backed Malema, now it opposes him. The song he sang had a history and a place in our own history. Despite that, the court ruled against him, and the Constitutional Court would have as well, if a strange deal had not been reached.

His comment last week does not have that history. This means it is much harder to defend it. And he himself appears to almost be dialling it back, telling the Sunday Times over the weekend, “We will never drive whites into the sea. We need them”.

This worrying event comes after another series of strange events.

Two weeks ago, Malema led another protest march in Tshwane, on the same day as the Save South Africa people held a meeting in a cathedral, the DA held its own march and the Public Protector’s State Capture Report was released. It was mayhem. And the reason for the mayhem was that Malema said beforehand that he could not promise there would be no violence. In the end, barring the looting of a couple of liquor stores, no serious damage was done to life or limb.

Even by Malema’s standards, there is a small air of desperation in all of this. Particularly if you remember the interview he gave to last month. There, he seemed to be seriously suggesting that he would join up with the ANC if it were necessary to help them stay in power in 2019. While the terms that he has placed on such a merger make it almost impossible to occur, it’s still a strange thing for him to say.

Then there is a much more peculiar episode. Over the weekend the new Public Protector, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, was asked by EWN to respond to the decision of soon-to-be-departing Eskom CEO Brian Molefe to leave Megawatt Park. She described it as a “loss to the country” and said that people should make judgements on the people named in the report, until after the judicial inquiry had been held. This was seized upon by many as proof that she has been appointed to protect the ANC in general and, well, Number One in particular.

The strange thing is, she could not have been appointed without the support of the EFF. Malema claimed to have nothing against her. Even then, he must have known, as the DA did, of her links to the State Security Agency. Even if he was not sure of that information, considering how important Thuli Madonsela has been to Malema’s career, surely it would have been more fun for him to simply object to whoever the ANC wanted to appoint. He had the votes to do it – the ANC needed support from either the DA or him to get this appointment through.

No doubt the more conspiratorial among us may believe that some deal was struck, that he agreed to help the ANC here in exchange for something.

Or, in the real world, perhaps he just felt he needed someone who he was sure would not do a proper job, as that would allow him to rail against the system when it clears Zuma.

But perhaps there is another reason for Malema’s strange behaviour. It may be possible that, top-class politician that he is, he’s about to lose his biggest political asset, President Jacob Zuma himself. The man who has been the symbol of everything that brings eager support into Malema’s hands, is losing power.

Consider the history between them. Malema was flung out of the ANC largely because of his relationship with Zuma (not that his relationship with Mbeki would have been any better if Mbeki had still been ANC leader then… despite what he says now). The actions that have led to him being thrown out of Parliament, the violence shown by the men in black and white against the people in red being shown again and again on non-SABC TV, the wonderful sound bites, the sheer anger that Malema displays so effortlessly. It’s all been motivated by widespread hatred for Zuma.

It is impossible to imagine Malema without Zuma, really. If Zuma were to go tomorrow, he would conduct a victory dance of sorts. And then what?

Imagine a Zweli Mkhize or a Cyril Ramaphosa or a Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at Luthuli House. They would still represent the system, but not in the way that Zuma does, if only because they have not behaved as terribly in the past. Not even the same galaxy.

Malema’s other problem is that he is losing his shock value. One of the reasons that his comments, while widely reported, have not dominated endless news cycles is that we are all used to this. “Malema Stirs Up Racial Feelings Shock” is not a headline that will get you many clicks. This could explain why he’s going further and further, deeper and deeper, and is now running up against the wall of what is acceptable. And possibly against the new Hate Speech Bill.

So then, what does Malema do next, to re-invent himself, and his party/movement, for a Zuma-less future? He is in possession of a serious, and natural, political talent. But he will have to think long and hard about how to adjust to what could be a new political reality. Malema needs to finally define the reason why would people vote FOR him, rather than AGAINST Zuma. At the end of the day, in the long term love trumps hate, as they say way too often these days… DM

Photo: Julius Malema (C), President of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) reacts as he speaks to Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza (L) and Advocate Dali Mpofu (R) during the hearing case of South African President Jacob Zuma to interdict the Public Protector from releasing a report on state capture, at the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, 02 November 2016. EPA/SIPHIWE SIBEKO/POOL



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