Commander-in-chief of Economic Freedom Fighters Julius Malema hopes this will be his political salvation. Picture: Itumeleng English

Johannesburg - It really is a pity looking at the current spectacle involving the new club of the politically disaffected. Former premier Cassel Mathale is making funny-sounding noises about his conscience being clean. Zwelinzima Vavi, the Cosatu boss, is going around saying he will resign if proof of wrong-doing is put on the table. Julius Malema, the once powerful youth leader of the ANC, has formed some political structure he hopes will be his salvation. Oh, how the mighty fall.

It is just a sad sight. Seeing men used to wielding so much power being publicly humiliated, reduced to sludge, isn’t fun.

You just can’t but feel pity for Mathale, the damage he has done notwithstanding. When someone starts saying “my conscience is clean” when no one has asked them, you know it is rough out there.

The last I heard words to that effect was from former police commissioner Jackie Selebi. Yes, we all know what happened afterwards. And Mathale boasted that he leaves behind a great legacy. Eusebius McKaiser comes to mind – should we not “clap once”? Don’t laugh!

To look ahead, we must look back.

At a packed hall at the University of Venda, Limpopo, Malema reached for the microphone as delegates were about to break for lunch in the winter of 2008.

“Comrades,” he implored, “we removed the head” in Polokwane. Men and women, happy to see and listen to him, laughed and cheered. They all knew the head he referred to was the ousting of Thabo Mbeki as ANC president a few months earlier.

“It is now time to remove the limbs and other parts,” Malema said to loud applause. That set the scene for the replacement of a forlorn-looking Sello Moloto, then ANC Limpopo chairman, with Mathale, the ascendant, triumphant leader. Moloto cut a lonely figure. He claimed his removal was engineered robbery.

Mathale was the new blue-eyed boy, if you know what I mean. Triumphant and unstoppable. The people’s choice. Moloto was yesterday’s man. A cry baby. Power had moved. Malema was the little prince who, with the help of Vavi, Mathale and others, secured President Jacob Zuma’s victory. Those were the heady days. They are now, I suppose, days to reminisce about. For, lately, the trio have hit hard times.

Mathale was forced out this week. He, like Moloto then, cut a lonely, sad figure. He can’t openly embrace his political chum at the head of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), can he?

The political engineering he did on Moloto is being visited upon him. And karma, really, is a b****.

Seven years ago, Willie Madisha, if you remember the one-time power player in Cosatu, was thrown out of the giant federation, tears and all. At that time, Vavi, who, with Mathale and Malema, formed the nucleus of Zuma’s support, was a powerful general secretary of Cosatu whose words were lapped up like honey. Vavi and his comrades engineered Madisha’s downfall. Madisha cried foul, but Vavi and his team were set to ensure Cosatu was solidly behind Zuma. Today, Vavi’s cries of a conspiracy to remove him echo Madisha’s. He is accused of benefiting from the sale of Cosatu’s old offices – an allegation he has flatly denied.

Those who are behind attempts to dethrone him are uncomfortable with his outspokenness about the challenges the country faces. They want him out.

They’ve piled pressure on him for months on end. He’s morphed from the once-powerful unionist to, well, a survivor. He can surely write a script about “Survivor Cosatu”. No? With his back against the wall, he said this week: “If anybody was to bring concrete information, (and say) here is evidence that this person has benefited, it will put me in a completely untenable position and force me to walk away.” This is what he does now. Defend himself. You’ve got to feel for him. How long will it take before his comrades do a Madisha on him? Oh karma, Vavi must hate you right now!

In 2008, Madisha complained bitterly about what he saw as victimisation by people who begrudged him his success.

“It (teachers’ union Sadtu) was one of the smallest unions in Cosatu when I became president, and now it’s the second largest,” Madisha boasted. Shades of Mathale? No? Mathale was quoted this week as saying “Sometimes you do a good job and people acknowledge, and sometimes they don’t”. Ao, arme skepsel (Poor thing)!

Malema, once a king-maker, is now making the best of his situation in the political wilderness. The edifice is slowly crumbling. He is fighting off prosecutors; attracting sushi kings; putting up a straight face and hoping his outfit will give the ANC a run for its money. Even those who hate him must feel for him. It’s cold outside the ANC, he once told us. Karma can’t be a beautiful thing when you are him!

The ANC says it isn’t panicking, yet acts like it is. In truth, though, it should not. Sending Cyril Ramaphosa to campaign in Limpopo as Malema launches his party is a tactical blunder. It’s like believing that the mad man of AbaThembu, who calls president Zuma a “nonsensical Zulu boy”, will bring significant votes to the DA. Madness.

The ANC must trust that people who will be casting their votes next year are normal, thinking beings. Its focus ought not to be on responding to the mushrooming of parties – EFF, Agang et al.

It should focus on expediting service delivery. As we approach 20 years of democracy, and as more and more born-frees become eligible to vote, attention will move to what the ANC has achieved, or failed to achieve, rather than its glorious past as a liberator.

Meanwhile, watching Vavi fight for his political life, Malema wondering whether his EFF will catch fire, Mathale setting off to Parliament’s back benches in Cape Town is truly saddening. The lesson in this is that we should be nice to people on our way up, in politics and in life generally, because we don’t know when our turn to look for friends, as Vavi and Malema are now doing, will come.

* Makhudu Sefara is the editor of The Star newspaper.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star