Expelled ANC Youth League President Julius Malema. Photo: Dumisani Sibeko

Can Julius Malema be rehabilitated?

Despite the ANC Youth League leader’s expulsion being confirmed this week, the ANC may have left the door open just a crack for SA’s enfant terrible.

Provided, that is, he learns from his mistakes and makes amends.

“Many of those who have been subjected to the same process and sanction have in turn learnt from their mistakes and have become better members who are fulfilling their role in the organisation,” the ANC said.

“We believe the same is possible for comrades Julius Malema, (secretary-general) Sindiso Magaqa and (spokesman) Floyd Shivambu.”

While the ANC National Disciplinary Committee of Appeals’ decision to uphold Malema’s expulsion was widely anticipated, its decision to suspend Magaqa for a year and Shivambu for three came as a shock.

They were Malema’s closest allies in the league: now, like him, they’ve been cast out.

On Wednesday, the league’s website no longer featured the names of either Malema or Magaqa among its top officials.

Instead, a dash appeared alongside the positions of president and secretary general – even though the league had decided at its most recent national executive committee meeting that Malema would continue to be supported as president until 2014.

It is not clear who made or authorised the changes to the website.

By yesterday, the league had yet to say when – or if – it would hold the emergency meeting it had previously announced. It was unclear who was actually in charge.

ANCYL national executive committee member Mdu Manana said they anticipated that deputy secretary-general Kenetswe Mosenogi or deputy president Ronald Lamola would inform them of the date of the meeting, expected “in the next few days”.

For now, he added, it was crucial that the programmes the league adopted at its 2011 conference – including the call for the nationalisation of mines and redistribution of land without compensation under the umbrella of economic freedom – should continue.

Professor Steven Friedman, director at the Centre for the Study of Democracy, said it would be difficult for the youth league, which was split as a result of jockeying by those with their eyes on Malema’s job, not to adhere to the national disciplinary committee of appeals’ ruling.

“It is aware, if it has not been told, that defying a decision of the ANC is political suicide,” he said.

The committee of appeals’ decision on Tuesday sounded the death knell for the league’s insistence that it was autonomous by calling for an ANC investigation into a controversial amendment to the league’s constitution. The amendment, effected when Malema’s disciplinary was already on the cards, was an attempt to protect him and others by stating that it would be up to the league itself to have the final say on whether or not to implement ANC disciplinary rulings against its members.

The committee of appeals pointed out that during the disciplinary process Malema and company had admitted the ANC constitution took precedence over that of the league. It said any other interpretation would create “an accountability-free zone”, which was unacceptable.

As the committee’s ruling is final, Malema’s expulsion and the suspension of Magaqa and Shivambu kicked in immediately. The next step will be to petition the ANC’s national executive committee to review the decision. This could be next month – if Malema and Magaqa can find at least one NEC member who can raise sufficient support for the matter to be discussed.

And even if their backers succeed in getting their case on to the NEC’s agenda, they would still have to win the argument that the ANC had been too harsh.

“To suggest the NEC will reverse the verdict would mean the people who have backed (Malema) would make an issue of it. That’s hardly guaranteed,” said Friedman.

He believed the balance of power in the NEC is against the nationalists who were backing Malema and the league’s call for leadership change at the ANC’s Mangaung conference in December.

A quick glance at the 99 members of the NEC shows those usually linked to Malema and ANCYL, like Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale or stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, are in the minority.

However, the balance on the NEC was volatile and could change. Even if the NEC may take up a review, simply to “satisfy itself that natural justice has been afforded to a charged member” as the committee of appeals said in its findings.

ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu said: “We are confident the majority of our members are respectful of ANC constitutional structures. In the life of the ANC there has never been any disrespect for those structures.”

However, Malema has previously vowed he will fight all the way to the December Mangaung conference – and accept his sentence only if that gathering confirms the verdict.

“We will go to review, we will wait for the national conference. It will be confirmed – and then we are going to accept,” he is quoted as having said, while arguing that the entire disciplinary process had been politically motivated and thus needed a “political solution”. - Weekend Argus