Julius Malema: Is a second coming possible?

Isaac Mpho Mogotsi says ANCYL is not the first populist faction in ANC, but it is the strongest

President Jacob Zuma once controversially predicted that the ANC will be in power in South Africa until Jesus Christ returned. Now the more pressing challenge for Zuma is whether he'll be able to make the expulsion of Julius Malema stick, or whether will he'll only rule over the ANC until the second coming of the ANCYL President.

The decision of the ANC NDC to 'expel' Malema should be understood against the background of four historical moments in the recent history the ruling ANC. 

The first of these four moments was the decision by COSATU and its General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, as reported by SAPA on 04 June 2009, to call on President Jacob Zuma to serve two terms as ANC and SA President, and not just one term, as Zuma had committed himself to do before he assumed the Union Buildings presidential office. 

Vavi then said "we know the president said only one term, but we have engaged with him. It is no longer on the table. He will run two full terms"

The post-Thabo Mbeki ANC succession battle was thus launched early on and no one in the ANC has really been able to put the succession genie back into the bottle since.

The second moment was the surprising interview that Billy Masetlha, a leading and outspoken ANC NEC member, and former National Intelligence Director General, gave to the Mail & Guardian on 09 October 2009, in which he ominously warned the ANC that President Jacob Zuma faced a revolt at the next ANC elective conference in Mangaung, similar to the revolt that had toppled Thabo Mbeki.

In this interview, which NUMSA, the second biggest SA trade union, later angrily dismissed and condemned as 'diabolical', Masetlha decried the alarming and growing influence of the SACP and Communist leaders like Blade Nzimande and Jeremy Cronin over the Zuma ANC Presidency.

The third moment was the 'strategic ambiguity' sent out by Jacob Zuma himself regarding his ambition, or lack thereof, regarding his seeking a second term at the helm of the ANC and the state. In a now historical interview with the newspaper that loves and adores him like no other, the Guptas' The New Age, President Jacob Zuma stated on 04 June 2011 that "I have never said I will serve only one term; and I have never said that I want to serve a second term."

Yet on 04 June 2009, as indicated above, Vavi was very clear that Zuma had in fact previously indicated that "we know that the president said only one term."

The fourth turning-point moment was the unprecedented and unusual public admission by Gwede Mantashe, the current and serving ANC Secretary General, that the ANC was being confronted with the prospect of 'implosion' at its December 2012 Mangaung elective conference, due to internal party divisions and ill-discipline within the ANC ranks.

What all this background indicates is that from the first weeks of Zuma's State Presidency, the ANC and its Alliance partners have terribly mishandled the succession issue. Coming as this did after the bruising Thabo Mbeki-Jacob Zuma pre-Poloikwane succession battles (2005-2007), this political negligence on the part of the ANC to correctly and formally regulate the matter of ANC presidential succession after Polokwane is baffling.

But it was this political atmosphere of leadership succession uncertainty that provided Julius Malema and the ANCYL to consolidate and buttress their reputation as ANC King-makers. After all, they had just 'deposed' Mbeki as ANC President in Polokwane in December 2007. Malema filled the leadership succession vacuum by first by advancing and adopting daring economic policies at the ANCYL NGC in June 2011; and then by making their support for ANC leadership conditional on a clear commitment to, and support for, the ANCYL's policies of nationalisation of mines and land expropriation without compensation.

It was at this point the Zuma ANC Top Six leadership collective realised that the horse had bolted, and that it needed to go on the counter-offensive to regain the initiative for the battle for the soul of South Africa. It was no wonder then that on 20 August 2011, the Saturday Star carried the screaming, if also self-satisfied, headline "ANC CHARGES MALEMA." 

The ANC leadership Empire was striking back mightily against its own ANCYL leaders. More than five months later, few days after the ANC. NDC resolved, on appeal, to 'expel' Julius Malema from the ANC, the Pretoria News of Friday, 02 March 2012, carried a more reflective and sombre headline "Don't write Malema off yet."

But the key, distinguishing feature of the Zuma-era ANC succession battle from the 2005-2007 pre-Polokwane Mbeki-Zuma succession battles is found in two elements. 

Firstly, Zuma has decided to lead his current hegemonic and dominant ANC faction, working furiously to secure him a second term, from the frontlines. Gone are the opaqueness and obfuscation of the Mbeki ANC succession strategy. 

Of course the approach of confronting Malema and the ANCYL leadership head-on, like an enraged bull chasing at a matador flagging a red cloth, carries enormous risks for Zuma himself, his hegemonic and triumphalist ANC faction and to the entire ANC broad church. 

The former ANC Secretary General, now ANC and State Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe correctly alluded to this danger in an interview with the Sunday Times on 08 October 2006. Asked by Xolani Xundu and Moipone Malefane "on Mbeki's silence on divisions crippling the party", Motlanthe replied:

"He has to be above all contradictions. If all fails, the membership would say: "Now is the time for his intervention and leadership."...He cannot be involved in tussles and tackles with individuals because some of them are tough and they might break his leg."

(This thoughtful statement of Motlanthe also explains why he has kept aloof from the current succession battles and factional fights tearing the ANC apart, a posture that has both annoyed and bewildered his ANC admirers and foes alike.) 

Zuma has thrown this Motlanthe caution to the wind. As a result, he runs the real risk that 'tough' individuals at the Mangaung ANC elective conference are going to break his legs, hands and backbone, politically speaking. His is a very high-risk strategy to ANC leadership succession, compared to Mbeki's more calculated and nuanced, albeit ultimately futile, succession strategy. 

The second feature is that whilst it was clear that Mbeki was battling his ANC and SA Deputy, Jacob Zuma, during the pre-Polokwane succession battle, it is really not clear who Zuma is battling: Malema? The entire ANCYL leadership? The concept that the ANCYL is an ANC Kingmaker? Motlanthe? Sexwale? All the above? Or his own paranoia? Shadows of Thabo Mbeki? Or just the morbid fear of suffering the political humiliation and defeat he inflicted on Mbeki in Polokwane in 2007? There is not even an attempt to articulate a coherent and convincing vision and perspective as to why Jacob Zuma should be awarded, and maybe even rewarded, with a second term at the helm of the ruling ANC, and subsequently of SA. 

What is loud and very audible though are sounds of groans and crushing bones from 'tussles and tackles', as Zuma takes on perceived political opposition to his ambition for a second term, the likes of Julius Malema and the ANCYL leaders.

But to gain a clearer and better understanding why the 'expelled' ANCYL President, Julius Malema, is suffering most of this 'tussles and tackles' from Jacob Zuma and his hegemonic ANC faction, you need to go back to the very first few months of South Africa's precarious and fragile existence as a new African constitutional democracy.

The way and manner in which post-apartheid South Africa has related to and dealt with ANC 'populists' and 'radicals' like Julius Malema and the current leadership cohort of the ANCYL, has not really undergone any substantive paradigmic shift from the parameters, tone, phobias, biases, and even theatricals, as was first introduced by then Business Day Political Editor, and veteran journalist, Alan Fine. 

In his Business Day article of 26 January 1995, (hardly a year after SA's first democratic elections), Fine penned an article of amazing journalistic power and rare political and intellectual prophetic insight, which helps us, even today, to fully understand the 'rough justice' treatment meted out by the ANC NDC to the 'expelled' ANCYL President, despite appearances of procedural fairness. 

Writing the article under the headline "ANC's populist faction waiting in the wings", Alan Fine said this particular ANC faction was then led by Winnie-Madikizela Mandela, Peter Mokaba, Malebane Metsing, and General Bantu Holomisa. In opposition to this group was an anti-populist faction led by Cyril Ramaphosa and other former UDF leaders. Fine's prophecy around the ANC 'populist faction'? 

He wrote in 1995: "This group - and there are a few others in the ANC who represent a similar perspective - is continually denigrated both by some ANC insiders and, more energetically, by outsiders. But its members have all confounded predictions and bounced back from adversity into ever more senior positions of power."

Fine further wrote, and this is still also relevant to the current happenings and succession ruckus within the ANC:

"Over the next several years the real policy conflicts within the ANC are going to be between the populists and those who propagate what might be called social market policies while recognising the constraints imposed by the need to create an international competitive economy."

Almost two decades later, this statement remains largely true.

As it was seventeen years ago, Winnie Mandela and Cyril Ramaphosa are still occupying opposing trenches in these ANC battles. As it was then, even today some, if not many, within the ANC, are still wont to denigrate the populists like Julius Malema and the current ANCYL leadership.

As it was seventeen years ago, today those outside the ANC denigrate the populists, much 'more energetically'. And as it was then, those advocating market-friendly policies like GEAR, the New Growth Path, the New Industrial Action Plan, and the National Development Plan, still declare that they are constrained 'by the need to create an internationally competitive economy". That is why they oppose the radical economic agenda of the current ANC populist faction led by Malema and the ANCYL. The more things change, the more they remain the same, quite frankly.

The anti-populists will continue to say the same trivia, even after donkeys' years, unless and until the ANC 'populist faction' gains sufficient momentum to politically gain a short at national governance.

But it is also true that Malema and the current ANCYL Leadership are like no other populists before them. 

For the first time in the history of post-1994 ruling ANC, the ANC 'populist faction' has reached a critical mass, has gained mainstream respectability within the ANC, are better organised, are no more dismissed and 'denigrated' as an ANC aberration, and are viewed increasingly as an alternative power centre, and an alternative power bloc within the ANC. 

In the past ANC populists looked truly like Herbert Marcuse's 'One-Dimensional Man', and single-issue based, e.g. Bantu Holomisa railed against Stella Sigcau's Transkei-era corruption, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela's bitterness about her perceived 'unfair' treatment by some former UDF leaders like Cyril Ramaphosa and Murphy Morobe, Malebane Metsing's bitterness that he was not made the leader of the ANC North West Province, that instead he was accused of corruption as a North West Province MEC, and Peter Mokaba's defiance and insistence in singing the 'Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer' song, in open defiance of Cyril Ramaphosa, the former ANC SG, and the iconic Nelson Mandela, as well as his bizarre determination to terminate the ANC-SACP alliance so very early on in the National Democratic Revolution.

At that stage the politics of populists within the ANC was driven by the agenda of leading personalities, and was very personalised, especially in their shared distrust for Cyril Ramaphosa. The 'populist faction' within the ANC lacked a unifying, over-riding and cohering sub-ideology and political sub-culture, beyond their culture of grievances and battered political egos.

At that early stage, it was thus easy to demobilise the ANC 'populist faction' by merely decapitating it, i.e. through the expulsion of Bantu Holomisa, Sifiso Nkabinde, and Malebane Metsing. Or through an administrative fiat of demoting Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Peter Mokaba from their Cabinet Deputy Ministerial positions.

The error of the current ANC national leadership is to still think this 'guillotine strategy' will work against Malema and ANCYL-led latter-day ANC 'populist faction'. That approach will cheer and please some ANC insiders and others outside the ANC. 

But this approach will not work this time around against Malema and the ANCYL leaders. The current ANC 'populist faction' is no longer a 'One-Dimensional Man' affair.

The 'populist faction' has become a deeply entrenched and very strong ideological force within the ANC, with its own economic programme, its foreign policy world-outlook, a SADC regional dimension, an Mbeki-ist African Agenda, and entrenched internal ANC network and patronage system. It is not a just a sick tonsil that be removed by surgical operation through purges, suspensions, and expulsions. Not by any stretch.

It has become an alternative power block within the ANC, ready to govern the country. The broad church that has for so long been the ANC, has now effectively, and to all intents and purposes, become, in all but name, a "two-parties" broad ANC church. One wing of the broad church is made up of social market proponents, the usual ANC conservatives, and a smattering of State power-hungry Stalinists. The ongoing ANC succession battles are fundamentally between this hegemonic ANC faction, which has rallied around President Jacob Zuma's ambition for a second term, and the ANC 'populist faction' led by Julius Malema and the ANCYL, and which is now increasing supported by NUMSA.

It is the latter constellation of forces that is the political basis of Julius Malema within the ANC, and which basis makes his Second Comeback from exile outside the ANC so very likely and plausible outcome at the ANC elective conference in Mangaung in December this year.

It is the stuff of Jacob Zuma's worst presidential nightmares on the road to Mangaung.

Isaac Mpho Mogotsi is Executive Director, Centre of Economic Diplomacy In Africa (CEDIA) He is also a businessman and a former diplomat

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