Former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leader Julius Malema’s “circus” at Thursday’s Marikana memorial service was far from a victory – and he may have overplayed his hand when he caused five cabinet ministers to walk out in embarrassment.
This is according to political analysts, who believe Malema made a “terrible mistake” when he hijacked what was meant to be a memorial service for 34 miners killed by police, turning it into a political rally. Malema sent five ministers aligned with President Jacob Zuma out of the venue on Thursday, saying they had arrived at the memorial service just to “pose for the cameras”.
They were Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele.
Malema also told the crowd not to be afraid of “cowards”.
Afterwards, the Presidency issued a statement saying the memorial had “lost its purpose and desecrated the memory of the departed” when it became a party political platform.
“It was a terrible move. What he’s trying to do is what Winnie [Madikizela-Mandela] used to do quite often. He doesn’t really have a constituency, so he looks out for cases in newspapers that people aren’t happy about. But what he’s done, he’s alienated himself even further from the ANC,” said analyst and director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, Steven Friedman.
Friedman said party members might actually think twice about associating themselves with Malema in future. “It was very crude politics. You can’t do that while people are praying and mourning,” he said, describing Malema’s move as a bit of a “circus”.
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said Malema may have gained valuable political capital when he first visited miners soon after the shooting, but that his memorial service antics had undone this.
“I think initially his political capital was solidified when he went to the mine. But he got carried away (at the memorial) and overplayed his hand. He showed disregard for the sensitivity of the mourning period,” said Fikeni.
Those who were happy to be supported by Malema “might get worried”, as he might also turn against them in a similar manner. “Within the ANC politics this may stiffen attitudes. His return may not be automatic [in Mangaung],” he said.
Malema also left the trade union movement seething, with Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi calling him a “right-wing leader”.
National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana described Malema as a “vulture” when he addressed a memorial service in Johannesburg.
He said Malema was using the “most ghastly occurrence” to express his own desires in the run-up to the ANC’s highly-anticipated elective conference in Mangaung in December.
Zuma’s spokesman Mac Maharaj said the president didn’t want to comment on the matter. He said Malema’s behaviour condemned itself. Youth league spokeswoman Khusela Sangoni-Khawe said: “We don’t comment on activities of Julius.”