Julius Malema may indeed be experiencing an empire collapse. The vital clue to this is the enthusiasm with which people who would otherwise have not raised a whisper against him are pilling in to kick him while he’s down. It’s exactly the same position Rupert Murdoch found himself in not too long ago.
Just a year ago, the arrival of News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch in London would normally be accompanied by brown-nosing on a colossal scale by everyone. It’s not like they liked old Rupe, but if they wanted their careers to mean anything, the smart thing to do would be to line up behind the old man’s bottom, same as everyone else.
How things have changed for Rupe? His latest trip to London was a little less friendly. In the wake of the phone hacking scandal, his defenders were very few indeed. Of those who did have kind words for Rupe, they tended to be somehow connected to News Corporation. Most notable among these is Piers Morgan, who himself may have been involved in the phone hacking.
The funny bit about all of this is that absolutely nobody would have said a word against Rupe before this. His control of the media and political establishment was so complete that nobody dared individually try and take him on. Then the chink in the armour showed, and the bottled up wrath poured in.
ANC Youth League president Julius Malema is in a similar bind. After weeks of media reports into his unexplained apparent wealth, the authorities have decided to take the case up and investigate Malema. City Press said that the Hawks launched a full criminal investigation two weeks ago into the financial dealings of Malema, his family trust and companies linked to him. The Public Protector has also reopened her case into Malema’s Limpopo business deals. Previously, she found no wrongdoing.
There are also the never-ending investigations being carried out journalists.
Then there was the big one. The ANC announced that it is once more going to haul Malema before a disciplinary committee. “Both Comrade Julius Malema and Comrade Floyd Shivambu have been charged with various violations of the ANC constitution, including bringing the ANC into disrepute through his utterances and statements on Botswana and sowing divisions in the ranks of the African National Congress,” the ANC statement read.
This isn’t the first time that Malema has faced the ANC’s disciplinary committee. Last year, he was sanctioned by the ANC for exactly the same charges. Also, they hung a two-year suspension sword over his head. The Youth League president is in serious trouble this time around.
The ANC itself seems to have learned valuable lessons from sanctioning Malema last year. This time, the charges are being brought by all six top ANC officials, not just secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. It will make it harder for Malema or anybody in the Youth League to retaliate by attacking any one leader. It will make it very difficult for the young lions to have anything to say without inviting more disciplinary action.
Also, City Press says that not only will ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu be charged with Malema, ANCYL deputy president, Ronald Lamola, secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa and treasurer Pule Mabe will be charged too.
What’s most notable about this time around is how enthusiastically anybody who has a bone to pick with Malema is piling in, especially from within the party itself. Apparently quite a few ANC national executive committee members want Malema tossed out the party outright, and not just settle on a five-year suspension.
From Malema and the Youth League’s perspective: where would they even begin if they were to resort to their old tactic of ad hominem attacks? They can’t tackle Mantashe or anyone else in the ANC’s upper crust – that would only serve to make the disciplinary process more painful. They can’t attack the Public Protector or the Hawks – Malema himself has repeatedly welcomed their investigations, claiming he was clean. And an attack on the media would be pointless – we’re far from being his biggest problem at the moment.
According to a press release that went out on Sunday night, the Youth League’s NEC met to discuss the charges brought against Malema, and is looking to talk its way out of this one. The statement very carefully phrased the fracas as a “political issue” (as opposed to what, one wonders), one that it can discuss with the parent body and perhaps resolve that way. “The ANC Youth League will request an urgent meeting with the leadership of the ANC to discuss the political issues, some of which could have been discussed before charges were preferred on the leadership of the ANC Youth League,” the statement said.
The statement stalls anyone who might read aggression into it by saying that the Youth League “will subject itself to the discipline and policies of the ANC”. This isn’t the self-assured and arrogant Youth League that we’ve come to loathe.
Much like Murdoch, all Juju can really do now is grit his teeth, and perhaps dramatically thump the table when he can’t control himself anymore. Both men are learning that no matter how powerful you are, if you make lots of patient enemies, you will eventually lose. DM
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Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.
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