IF A WEEK in politics is a long time, 42 weeks could just be an epoch for ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, as he fights not just for his survival but to settle scores with the idol who became his nemesis.
The collateral damage though, between now and the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in mid-December could spread well beyond President Jacob Zuma and Malema.
There is much at stake.
For Malema, expulsion, if upheld on appeal and review, means the loss of a public and party platform for his call for expropriation of land without compensation and the nationalisation of mines. Closer to home, the loss of the influence derived from such a platform may hit him in the pocket: without political connectivity, donations of homes, farms, expensive clothes, watches and luxury vehicles may just dry up, alongside tenders for companies to which he is linked.
For the ANC this is a crucial test of its willingness to impose discipline consistently, regardless of rank, as enjoined by its national general council in Durban in September 2010. It is also an acid test of whether its members will accept the party’s discipline. And, if not, how the ANC will deal with the fallout.
If the matter ends up in the ANC national executive committee (NEC) for review – a petition can be brought although there’s no guarantee it would succeed – then it may well deepen fractures there.
The divisions run not only between those who look to Malema as the poster boy of the call for leadership change, and those who don’t, but also through other interests like the direction the party should take in its next century.
For the youth league, the issues are potentially more serious: will the remaining leadership, first, be able to retain their unity – including adherence to an earlier decision that if Malema is out, his president’s post would not be filled – and, second, be able to keep the organisation together?
On Thursday the youth league retreated into silence and said it would be guided by the outcome of its NEC meeting which takes place tomorrow. Since the start of the disciplinary hearings in August last year, these meetings have backed Malema – despite speculation some of his top officials and provincial leaders would go in different directions.
Despite the focus on Malema, the meeting will also discuss league secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa, who will be suspended for three years if he does not apologise to Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba following a personal attack on him, and its spin doctor Floyd Shivambu, whose three-year suspension was upheld by the appeals committee.
However, a show of unity at national level does not diminish problems in the provinces. There are already cracks in KwaZulu-Natal, where despite the national intervention and disbanding of elected structures last year, tensions continue to simmer.
In the Eastern Cape, the playing field appears wide open and despite expulsion of youth league members in several regions, tensions may also surface.
In the Western Cape, league structures are non-existent as the organisation has not managed to hold a new elective conference since the provincial executive was disbanded over a year ago. Without official structures, elements claiming to represent the youth league were able to disrupt last month’s ANC centenary lecture by Zuma.
In Limpopo, Malema’s home turf, the youth league is also split – acrimoniously and violently, given the clashes and gunshots traded outside the home of Malema’s grandmother in Seshego shortly after his expulsion was announced. It remains to be seen whether those outmanoeuvred and ousted by Malema and his supporters, like Masoga Lehlogonolo and others, will now take the opportunity to reposition themselves.
More importantly, relations between the ANC mother body and its youth league could unravel completely if the league decides on a path of defiance – initial indications are that it will, as Malema has vowed to fight on. If the youth league insists on the supremacy of its own constitution, it would hold its own internal proceedings, which would in all probability result in it overturning the mother body’s verdict of Malema’s expulsion.
But such a move carries the risk of incurring the wrath of those who remain behind Malema and the league. And the league would be treading on thin ice, given that the national disciplinary and the appeals committees made it abundantly clear the youth league’s constitution was subordinate to that of the ANC.
“Although the youth league has an organisational and administrative life of its own, its own constitution and the power to hold its own conferences and to take decisions, the appellants correctly conceded that in the event of conflict between the constitutions of the youth league and the ANC, the ANC constitution will prevail,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, the chairman of the national disciplinary committee of appeals.
What are the options for Malema over the next 42 weeks?
Fight back mode is one route. And it is the likely one given Malema’s repeated statements to that effect and continued singing of the “shower song”, which disparages Zuma as the man who causes problems.
“We must accept the decision, but that is not the end of the road. It is still (too) early to celebrate. The road ahead of us is very long,” Malema said on Wednesday about his expulsion. “I have not done anything wrong.”
Of course, the youth league argument has always been that the charges related to a Botswana command team, seen as tantamount to a call for regime change in contravention of ANC policy, were politically motivated and used to settle scores.
On the procedural front, indications are, there will be an appeal to the national appeals committee before the mid-March deadline. That committee must deliberate and publish its findings. If the appeals committee upholds the expulsion, it’s the end of the road for Malema.
The focus would then move to the ANC NEC, where those supportive of Malema would have to lobby for a review of the disciplinary verdict, with a view to having it overturned. That process could take time as the NEC sits only every other month.
And there’s no saying, even if the review makes it on to the agenda, when it would be discussed. It could be closer to the end of the year than now. There is, of course, always the option of going to court, although it’s unlikely that any washing of dirty party laundry there would be welcomed.
While this matter may feature at the June ANC policy conference, it could ultimately be raised at the Mangaung elective national conference – most likely through a motion from the floor. Such a motion would, however, have to win majority support to succeed.
It could all become much easier if there is a leadership change – the ANCYL has been chanting “2012 siVota Mbalula, siVota Kgalema”, in reference to its wish to see Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe take over from Zuma and former youth league president Fikile Mbalula, now Sports Minister, from incumbent secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.
But Malema will find the cards stacked against him.
Criminal investigations by the elite police unit, the Hawks, Sars and an anti-corruption task team which includes the Special Investigating Unit, continue.
The public protector is also probing claims against On-Point, a company with links to Malema, in various tenders in Limpopo.
It’s the second such probe: the public protector’s initial inquiry found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing in tenders awarded to the firm SGL, to which he was linked for a time.
Malema and the youth league have styled themselves as economic freedom fighters, using public platforms to speak out against the ills of SA society which, 17 years into democracy, has almost three million young people unemployed, and mostly unemployable, an education system which is battling to meet the skills deficit and a huge wealth gap.
But the 30-year-old firebrand has for many years lived a fundamental contradiction: speaking for the poor, he nevertheless enjoyed a high-flying lifestyle, including ownership of several houses in Polokwane and Joburg and luxury sedans, sometimes driven by chauffeurs.
And perhaps it’s time for the chickens to come home to roost.
The track record of those expelled from the ANC is chequered, to say the least.
Bantu Holomisa continues to lead the United Democratic Movement formed after his 1996 expulsion.
Cope, on the other hand, appears to continue to bleed members back to the ANC and, given its internal wrangling and court cases, is set to have a tough road ahead at the 2014 polls.
The history books have not been kind to others like the Marxist Workers Tendency, expelled in 1985, and the “Gang of Eight” led by Tennyson Makiwane, booted out in 1976.
But the Byzantine manoeuvrings within the ANC may just produce surprises.
And it bears remembering how in 2005 Zuma pulled off a stunning political comeback, when the national general council decided he should remain active as deputy president in the party, even if he was removed from the government over allegations of bribery related to the multi-billion rand arms deal.
Malema, who once said he would “kill for Zuma” before their relationship imploded spectacularly, might just try to repeat history.