The tactics used to support President Jacob Zuma during court appearances and in the run-up to the 2007 Polokwane conference have been unleashed on the ANC’s doorstep, commentators say.
While ANC Youth League president Julius Malema appeared before a party disciplinary hearing involving a posse of lawyers on Tuesday, some 3 000 young supporters chanted, toyi-toyied and burnt the ANC flag and T-shirts bearing Zuma’s face amid clashes with police outside Luthuli House. The protests even made the top Twitter trends.
Political analyst Prince Mashele said disorder had been used as “a tool of political expedience” when a very rowdy section of the ANC wanted to install Zuma as president and to remove then president Thabo Mbeki. They had mobilised crowds and toyi-toyied outside the courts.
“As they were doing that, they were constructing a new culture of chaos and mayhem,” Mashele said, adding this had now boomeranged.
“It’s a crisis of the ANC. The ANC has become an interplay of factions. And power is at the centre of this. The ANC is a stepping stone to state power… State power is a stepping stone to patronage.”
Political commentator Moeletsi Mbeki said what was taking place outside the ANC head office was not very different to what had happened in the run-up to Polokwane.
“This has become a convention of how the ANC conducts its business. I think Jacob Zuma has to take responsibility; he initiated this modus operandi. Now it’s coming back to bite him and his leadership,” Mbeki told e.tv.
Given the high levels of youth unemployment and failing public education system, it was impossible to have stability, and this had opened up opportunities for those mobilising in the name of the poor.
“The ANC is now speaking for those who are employed, who are inside. Malema is speaking on behalf of outsiders. The insiders are trying to silence the outsiders,” Mbeki said.
Steven Friedman, director at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, said: “There’s a battle of two styles of politics, two factions (in the ANC) that will continue whether there’s a Malema or not.”
However, what had taken place on the streets might make things more difficult for Malema and the faction within the senior leadership that had found the youth league useful.
“If he’s suspended, it will be difficult for him to come back. I should imagine that what’s happening on the streets may well help tip the scales against him,” said Friedman, adding the likelihood of serious action against Malema had increased.
Mashele said it would be a mistake to think that if Malema was dealt with there would never be another Malema.
“Malema should be understood as an epitome of a new culture of chaos in the ANC. Are the conditions that have made it possible for Malema to emerge gone? No. The ANCYL still commands the role of kingmakers. That position will always produce a Malema,” he added.
The youth league leader used a break in the disciplinary proceedings to address the crowd and condemned the burning of the ANC flag, T-shirts with Zuma’s face and general rowdiness.
“Just the name Luthuli means you cannot attack a house named after a revolutionary,” Malema told supporters. “Leaders of the ANC, leaders of the alliance must be respected. We cannot burn ourselves, especially the black, green and gold… You are burning a flag of Peter Mokaba, Harry Gwala, Walter Sisulu. They died for our freedom, they died for this flag to fly high.”
Wits University Graduate School of Public and Development Management Professor Susan Booysen said the ANC disciplinary hearing would do its utmost not to be influenced by what was happening outside, but it would have an impact.
“It can go either way. Nobody’s winning in the process,” she added.