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At least (and at last) Zuma has acted

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.

Yes, thank you, Mr President. We South Africans won’t say so, but we really are grateful for what you and the top leadership of the African National Congress did two weeks ago by announcing that fresh charges would be brought against the ANC Youth League’s top leadership.

Allow me to draw your eyes away for three minutes from what someone on Twitter called the “So You Think You Can Judge” contest, and return to last week’s great scandal. I’m talking, obviously, of “The Seige of Luthuli House 2: The Rise of the Young Lions”. Although, perhaps I shouldn’t draw comparisons to that other siege of the ANC headquarters, when men from the Inkatha Freedom Party sought to cause mischief carrying nothing more than sticks and cowhide shields, and ended up leaving 19 of their own dead.

No, the ANC Youth League at the gates was far less of an event.

I was very tempted to spend these precious column centimetres raging about the degeneration of the youth. “If this is the future of our country, I’m moving to Libya” and all that. The temptation was made doubly attractive by the fact that I’ve spent most of last week in Zurich at the One Young World summit among 1,300 of my peers – all young, ambitious and socially conscious. Ask anyone who was there, and they will tell you that the South African delegation was anything but meek and silent. I found us embarrassingly vocal at times (a result of my overactive shame gland, no doubt), but also the perfect tonic to the lot upturning dustbins on Sauer Street.

This achingly loud group of young people will someday lead South Africa in their respective fields of industry, and I assure you they will do so far better than their predecessors. South Africa’s future is in safe hands. Unlike the ANC’s, which seems to be unravelling as its future leaders attempted to sack the city they could have one day inherited, pillaged their own mother body and burnt the 99-year-old flag of the ANC.

But enough about the future of the ANC. What about the party right now? What does all of this say about the state of the ANC, and the future prospects of the top-six team lead by Zuma?

You won’ hear this said often, but I believe it took leadership and courage from the ANC top six to choose to go down this path. We need to commend the ANC when they do the right thing with the same energy that we criticise their mistakes. A lot has been said about Zuma’s apparent paralysis in dealing with Malema – one of his main lieutenants in the period leading up to Polokwane. It’s no secret Zuma needed to band together many factions to ascend to the highest political seat in the land. It’s also no secret many of these organisations backed him not for who he is, but because of who he isn’t. The person who knows this best is Jacob Zuma.

Zuma has risked his political career by finally acting against the Youth League’s increasing habit of breaking ranks with ANC protocol. He opened himself up to the mischief of those who would take his place at the top by showing his hand on ANCYL president Julius Malema so strongly. Despite all this, he acted. The Youth League has reacted by throwing all its chips into the ring – they’ve tried ad hominem attacks on the ANC’s national disciplinary committee, they’ve tried violence and they’ve tried reopening the debate on the arms deal, which is still Zuma’s biggest wound. It appears none of their tactics has worked. If anything, the Youth League has dug itself into a deeper hole.

Whatever the outcomes of Malema’s trial, Zuma and Gwede Mantashe took the steps they felt were necessary to protect the ANC. We should all be grateful for that. An ANC at war with itself would be very bad news for us all. DM



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