So, the ANC leadership has finally found the courage to discipline Malema. It will be curious to see what is going to happen when the day of reckoning comes about. Ahead of the 2009 elections the secretary general scoffed at anyone who dared suggest Malema should be disciplined. He told all who cared to listen that there is a way in which you need to nurture young people to groom them into leaders.
So the call for discipline was misplaced. Malema at that time said worse things than calling for a neighbouring country’s government to be overthrown. He had insulted women in general after the Zuma rape trial, and recently he insulted whites in general after the local government elections.
The tune started to change when Mantashe admitted the ANC’s performance in Western Cape was partly the result of Malema’s racist and sometimes unsophisticated utterances. The tune truly changed when charges were laid, not because of these utterances, but triggered by remarks on Botswana. Apparently African leaders are beginning to ask themselves who is in charge – Malema or Zuma?
Now that will get action. Remember the last time Malema was charged was when he dared compare Zuma with Mbeki, claiming that there are no comparisons in the brains and legacy departments. That kind of ego-bashing exercise gets you disciplined in politics. There is nothing bigger that a politician’s ego – not the people, not the poor, nothing beats the ego when it comes to politicians. Hence the idea of other leaders wondering who is in charge is what made the ANC, whose collective ego is being bruised every day, to stand up and take action. They could tolerate women being called collective sluts or whites being collectively insulted, but you touch an ego over who’s in charge and you know what is coming your way. For the sake of the credibility of the whole process one hopes the charge sheet will deal with the matters of Malema’s conduct quite comprehensively. This process, as Mantahshe suggested earlier, must tell us how the ANC will support the role that the youth must play to challenge the status quo, to generate much-needed debate and to steer the organisation in a new direction for the sake of future generations.
The process must emerge with no sense that this may be retaliation against the ANCYL insistence on nationalisation. After all, the league has threatened that anyone who does not support nationalisation must start looking for jobs elsewhere. (Hint: Shabangu please start applying – avoid mines). By the way, Shabangu’s sin was to say that there will be no nationalisation in her lifetime. There are few of such courage left in the movement. But then again you can’t be that reckless when you deal with kingmakers. Unless of course, you don’t want deployment in 2014.
The whole disciplinary facade is nothing, but a face-saving effort by the ANC leadership as well as an admission of its failure to lead. When did the ANC leadership have a bilateral with the ANCYL leadership to debate its views on various things in society? If your child misbehaves, do you start by reporting him to the police or do you sit him down and lay down some rules? I suspect you have to do all you can before you go the disciplinary route? But I may be wrong since my children are at an age where engagement won’t make sense, but grounding and other such inexpressive forms of punishment are appropriate. So my analogy may be limited by my experience.
But once they can understand you can hold them accountable for the outcomes of their actions, things change. Contrary to popular belief, the ANCYL is full of adults not toddlers. The ANC has allowed it to behave too independently and now it’s too late to rein them in with hard muscle or tough love. Mantashe’s theory of nurturing was right, but, like most things in politics, there was poor follow-through and no follow-up of any significance.
So what must be done?
The ANC must drop its silly charges against Malema. He has, after all. apologised. It would have been silly to pursue Zuma after he apologised for his misdemeanours on various occasions in the last few years. The guy said sorry. And unlike the other outlandish statements this time he was speaking on mandate by his executive. So why charge him and not the whole NEC?
The ANC must have a bosberaad with its youth wing and set the rules of engagement on the road towards Mangaung. This must be a heart-to-heart and robust session where no egos will be spared. This will lower the confrontation and tempers on matters on the table. It will also depersonalise them and focus on the real issues. At the heart of this whole thing is a fight for the soul of the economic direction of the ANC. That elephant will haunt the movement ahead of and after Mangaung.
The ANC and ANCYL must communicate the outcomes of this bosberaad openly and jointly facing the media together and ensure no mixed messages about what the sessions achieved. This assumes the outcomes are mutual and positive. There is full capacity in the ANC to resolve issues in the same family. The ANC managed to do that with sworn enemies at Codesa and they can do it with their own youth wing with much more ease.
The alliance as a whole must mend its relationship and focus the country on key challenges ahead of the ANC’s centenary. Such celebrations may mean nothing for ordinary people if they are marred by the fight for Mangaung. The ANC must relax rules around open debate on issues that will characterise Mangaung – be it on nationalisation or on succession.
In the final analysis a war between the ANC and its Youth League looks bad for the whole ANC. The ANC has the capacity to deal with this matter in a more sophisticated manner that will result in more unity than division. We are all waiting with bated breath. DM
Tabane is a media commentator and businessman – he writes in his personal capacity.