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Julius Malema and Bantu Holomisa have a lot in common politically – and now they’re teaming up, writes Janet Smith.
Johannesburg - It was Jacob Zuma, ANC chairman, who briefed the media on Bantu Holomisa’s fate. Speaking at Shell House, which was then the party’s head office in Joburg, Zuma said the ANC NEC, which he led, had, “after due consideration, unanimously confirmed the findings of the national disciplinary committee and upheld the sentence passed”.
It was September 1996, and Holomisa had been summarily expelled. It was a shock.
The former military ruler of Transkei was a young politician very much on the rise in the ruling party. He had got the highest number of votes in its most recent NEC elections and his support was growing even outside the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, where he already enjoyed substantial popular backing.
But seemingly out of the blue, he posed too much of a political danger to his party, and perhaps to the quickly expanding elite within it. It felt to Holomisa’s champions like he had to be shut down.
The lever was his appearance before the Truth and Reconcoliation Commission in May that year. Holomisa had remarked to the panel that then-public enterprises minister Stella Sigcau, a controversial figure, had accepted what amounted to some of the proceeds of an alleged “incentive” to former Transkei leader Chief George Matanzima.
The amount – R50 000 – seems paltry today. But that was what had been rumoured to have been given to Sigcau by Matanzima, alleged at the time to have received about R2 million from hotel mogul Sol Kerzner, who created Sun City.
The payment was not a new idea. It had already been investigated by the Alexander Commission appointed by Holomisa when he was still at the helm of Transkei. The commission’s report supported Sigcau’s explanation for payment received, and no steps were taken against her.
But the Transkei Military Council never accepted its findings. It maintained that the evidence before the commission had been incomplete. To some, it felt like Sigcau had been protected.
Holomisa’s reminder of those events at the TRC did not go down well with the leadership of the ANC.
Suddenly, the party was said to be issuing instructions to its provincial members not to participate in Holomisa’s rallies, which were always well-attended. Suddenly, he was being isolated.
Then, it was all over.
Fast forward to Sunday.
A powerful burst of black bikers roars into the shadow of the Wonderkop death site at Marikana, parting the marshals lining the route to the stage for the launch of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
The hot and thirsty crowd, waiting for the arrival of EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema, explodes. The bikers draw circle after circle in the sand, throwing up great arcs of dust, then pull to a stop and sit on their seats, faces masked, in big black boots.
There’s a pause as the crowd bellows on vuvuzelas and pounds the ground. Then the revving of the throttles starts, and it’s like a cracking surge of mighty machinegun fire. Ratatatatatt! Ratatatatatt!
Malema’s silver BMW eases up the lane of marshals as the crowd starts pumping the air with their fists, and he’s soon climbing the stairs to the stage where a few people have already taken their seats.
You could hardly miss Holomisa when he walked in, wearing a customarily pristine white tracksuit. And indeed, once the crowd quietens down for the introductory prayer, the leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), is bowing his head, sitting up there among the dignitaries.
The crowd will later give him a rousing salute when he takes the podium to address them.
On Monday morning, Holomisa laughs heartily on the phone from Mthatha.
“I’m their homeboy, you see. I’m not at all surprised by that response.”
He’s been working with Malema in Marikana since the massacre of 34 miners by police on August 16 last year. Sometimes they’ve been there together, sometimes separately, but the political support for the workers and their families has come primarily from those two quarters: Holomisa and Malema.
Their most visceral link is that both were expelled from the organisation they loved. The expulsions might be nearly 20 years apart, but unite them.
Giving the history of his relationship with mineworkers who come predominantly from the Eastern Cape, where he ruled and which is his home, Holomisa explains: “When the tragedy happened at Marikana, the mineworkers couldn’t rest. On that afternoon, they called me, saying, please, general can you come?
“Please. We are being killed by the police.”
He said he called Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota on the day to organise opposition support for the community because “the ANC was nowhere to be found – and I still do not know for what reason”.
That’s when his relationship with Malema began, and he explains that since then he has played something of a mentor role to the expelled former ANC Youth League president.
When Holomisa was himself expelled, he established the National Consultative Forum which eventually become the UDM, formed out of a joint structure with ex-National Party minister and negotiator Roelf Meyer’s movement.
“So this is the same with Julius. How can he feel isolated when he’s being kept busy like this? Like I was, he’s being comforted by the structures created by the people.
“That boy is not stupid at all. Most important, he’s got an audience. I liked his approach (at the launch). It was tempting for him to use it for something else, but instead he talked like a real statesman, putting this policy and that policy forward.
“He was not the old Juju we think we know, going for Zuma’s jugular. He was talking like someone who can lead.”
Holomisa is confident Malema and the EFF can build branches and develop a burgeoning grassroots force.
And now the UDM leader – who was invited to occupy Sunday’s stage by Malema – is speaking more openly about how opposition parties, especially the EFF, may use their support after the 2014 election to amass a collective percentage that could outweigh the ANC’s two-thirds.
“I’m giving my advice to the EFF if they ask for it, and, look, there are already plenty of discussions among the opposition political parties, especially since the beginning of the year.
“We are talking about the need to co-operate and build an alternative. I’ve put various models around coalitions and so on, and we talk about it in our opposition forum in Parliament.
“There are questions about disbanding to form one party.”
And he’s not worried that the newest party could be too maverick in its approach, particularly around land.
“When you come into power, you really understand how few resources you have, so you have to adjust a little bit here and there. I don’t think Malema would be scared to do that.”
Holomisa believes the EFF leader has got his ideology focused on what troubles the nation. “Your policies have to be designed to help the poorest of the poor. You can’t be shy about that.
“We need a review of the sunset clauses after Codesa (the Convention for a Democratic SA). I think we need another Codesa, an economic Codesa. You have people like Juju and the youth beginning to ask us: ‘But, our parents, why did you allow this?’ They are just falling short of saying to us, ‘you sold us out’.
“And be wary of underestimating these young people. They are matured. They are educating themselves politically.
“Zuma and Kgalema Motlanthe had no clue about administration when they took power at Polokwane and now they have deployed people who can’t do the job. Plus, they’re playing a dangerous tribal ticket.
“Watch Julius. The time is coming for big change.”
* Janet Smith is executive editor of The Star.