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Election ecstasy: Old foes kiss and make up

Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Julius Malema. Helen Zille and Jacob Zuma. When traditional foes start making nice towards one another or echoing one another’s opinions, it’s clearly the end of the world as we know it. Or else, it’s a general election year and they’re scrambling to ingratiate themselves with voters.

Inkatha Freedom Party leader Buthelezi and Economic Freedom Fighter leader Malema decided this week that they had more in common than a tendency towards bellicosity and the word ‘freedom’ in the names of their parties. They would during the run-up to the election, they have agreed, cooperate to allow free political activity, especially in the often volatile rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, oppose bias by the state broadcaster and act against the abuse of state resources by the governing African National Congress.

Nothing controversial in any of that. What passed unremarked upon, however, and does have the potential for controversy, is that part of the joint statement issued afterwards, saying that the two had agreed on the issue of land restitution, that the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ principle had not worked and that a “new approach” was needed.

Malema has always favoured nationalisation of the land held by white ”thieves” without compensation – the droll explanation doing the rounds is that the EFF acronym means ‘Everything For Free’ – while the IFP’s position is that the only flaw to the “willing buyer, willing seller” policy is incompetence and corruption in land affairs. Buthelezi himself has often warned that nationalisation will lead to Zimbabwean-style famines.

And a few years back Lionel Mthshali, a former KwaZulu-Natal premier and now leader of the IFP in KwaZulu-Natal legislature, “questioned the sanity” of those who rejected the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle. “The IFP believes there are no credible alternatives to the principle. We do not want to go back to apartheid-style forced removals or revisit any other form of land grabbing … none of these solutions inspire investor confidence or promote productivity.”

Asked whether there has been a shift in IFP policy, Henry Combrink, the party’s shadow minister on agriculture and land affairs, said that as far as he was aware there had been no change but that he had not attended the meeting between the two parties. He referred me to IFP Deputy Secretary-General, Professor Themba Msimang, who did not respond to calls.

This could all be just another EFF electoral play, since the phrasing of the statement has the hallmarks of a typically canny Malema finesse. It leaves enough wriggle room for the self-styled “commander-in-chief” to claim while on the electoral trail that Buthelezi has now fallen in behind the EFF battalion on the land issue, something of a coup if it were true, while not actually spelling out any of the bothersome details of the supposed agreement.

The genial meeting between the IFP and EFF leaders and their apparent rapprochement is fascinating since in many ways the two are the antithesis of one another. They are the oldest and youngest leaders of political parties; the one is a liberal federalist and the other a confiscatory neo-fascist; Buthelezi preaches racial reconciliation, while Malema delights in taunting minority groups; and finally, while Buthelezi, despite the bitter and bloody battles with the ANC in the 1990s, values deference and politeness, Malema is often derogatory or chillingly threatening.

Malema in the past often mocked the IFP leader, including calling Buthelezi “a factory fault”. Buthelezi, in turn, has described Malema as “an ill-bred brat whose behaviour is not only un-African but crude by the standards of any culture in the world”. But, hey, now they are best pals, with backslaps all round.

Also this week finding unexpected common cause were Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille and President Jacob Zuma. They responded in similar vein to Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who had described the national soccer team Bafana Bafana, following their loss against Nigeria, as “losers” and “useless”.

Zille denounced Mbalula’s “horrific” slur and berated the minister for “humiliating” the team. Compared to Zille’s hyperbole, Zuma was more understated. He said that whatever various (unnamed) people were saying about the team, Bafana had “improved greatly” and deserved the nation’s continued patriotic support. Poor Mbalula, slapped down by both the leader of the opposition and the leader of the country on the same day, and that for telling the truth, too.

Whether its political reconciliation between old foes, land restitution or hapless footballers, ‘tis the season for some opportunistic populism all around.

Follow William Saunderson-Meyer on Twitter

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  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.

8 Comments

  1. Chamapgne Cocktail Chamapgne Cocktail 26 January 2014

    One has to relish all the titilatingly biting little bits … “IFP leader Buthelezi and Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) leader Malema decided they had in common more than a tendency to bellicosity and the word ‘freedom’ in the names of their parties”
    … the explanation for EFF: ‘Everything For Free’.
    However, despite the bonding of the ‘brothers’ – (“the antithesis of each other’) It leaves one with more than a bit of a bellyache.
    To recap: “ In the past, Malema often mocked Buthelezi calling him a ‘factory fault’. And Buthelezi described Malema as ‘an ill bred brat whose behaviour is not only un-African, but crude by the standard of any culture in the world”.

    And by the bye, let us not forget Malema’s vows to ‘kill for Zuma.’ He’s certainly changed his mind on that one.

    However, despite common cause like Mbalula, it is unlikely that Zille and Zuma are ‘an item.’
    Whereas Helen Zille says what needs to be said in an honest and forthright way, it is doubtful that Zuma – while sitting on the fence and saying nothing of any importance about no one in particular “various (unnamed) people’ – is whispering sweet nothings in her ear.

  2. Sydney Sydney 27 January 2014

    I’ve always been fascinated by Malema’s flip-flopping which his supporters have chosen to ignore. ‘Mbeki is the worst leader to come out of the ANC, he must go now(2008), Mbeki is the most intelligent leader to have come out of the ANC(2012)’. That cannot be normal.

    That said, I don’t see how you would think the IFP supporting Malema’s land grabs would be ‘something of a coup’. Really. Is this the same IFP that has seen its support decline so badly that it has even lost its grip on KZN, its regional base. I wouldn’t think the IFP supporting the EFF is a coup, just a desperate power-thirsty old man not ready to give up power(doesn’t remind you of good old Bob?). Buthelezi’s political contemporaries have either all retired or sadly passed on, and he’s still clinging to the last straws of political power at the expense of his IFP.

    No, it’s not a coup. The IFP is a spent force. I just feel sorry that Juju is selling some of his political clout to the strangest of people, what’s next, Freedom Front + Freedom Fighters(FFFF!!)

  3. Baz Baz 27 January 2014

    Think this just pure cosmetic face front for the coming elections.
    Attitudes will change nearer the time for the public to cast their votes.

  4. WSM WSM 27 January 2014

    @ Sydney: Yes, beware of any party with the word ‘freedom’ in its name; and any country with the word ‘democratic’.
    The IFP might be waning and it’s likely that it will drop below the 4.5% it got in the last election, but for any leader to back Malema’s view adds momentum to the wannabe Che.

  5. C Stephens C Stephens 28 January 2014

    The big news is not Buthelezi and Malema patching it up or Zuma and Zille both trying to protect Bafana, but about the DA-Agang merger. This article misses another important point – that economic freedom does not have to come from Socialism, as it has certainly not come from Capitalism. Kwame Nkruma said that Africa does not have to look to the West, or to the East – is has to look forward, ahead, to the future. In a way, Buthelezi meeting Malema was handing the baton in a relay race that is not about ideology but about what is best for the 50% of South Africans who have not yet benefited – 20 years later – from the “democracy dividend”. How does that make Malema a populist for God’s sake?! He speaks for that 50% of the population (that number 26.5 million) while Vavi’s uses Leninist rhetoric to represent only 2 million Cosatu members, maybe only half of that. Calling Malema a neo-fascist is like the Italians calling Pope Francis a Marxist. He wrote to Davos: “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it”. That sounds like EFF-speak to me. You don’t have to be a Socialist to strive for economic freedom for ALL – not just for some. Expect more mergers or coalitions in the run-up to these elections. It looks to me like it will be a 3-way race between the ANC, the DA and the EFF. The smaller parties are but “wedges” to influence these big three. The demise of the ANCYL is the best reason to vote for EFF. Parliament needs…

  6. baz baz 28 January 2014

    @ [email protected]…your last part of your sentence….but for any leader to back Malema’s
    view adds momentum to the wannabe Che. It rung a cord in me about how Malema is swaying the younger voters to his party.

  7. C Stephens C Stephens 28 January 2014

    Sorry baz, I exceeded the letter-limit and got cut off mid-sentence. You got it right, though. Parliament needs more – no many – younger voices. Two-thirds of the population of SA is under 35. Of course maybe half of those are under 18 so Parliament should really be at least half under 35 and less than half over. To be truly representative. You are right that Malema is drawing that vote. Mamphela Ramphele the new DA candidate for President won’t, she will pull the average age of Parliament up not down! Don’t forget that while unemployment rates across the board are way too high (Vavi says 36%) they are much higher among youth. In theory the ANCYL was the youth voice of the ANC. It’s dead and buried. I don’t see Malema as a Che but as a Sankara. He rose to Cabinet meetings on a bicycle when he was a Minister. As state president he declared the Renault 5 to be the standard car for cabinet ministers to drive. Tell that to Modise and Mabuza. Parliament is exemplary on gender but not on age. Expect most voters under-35 unemployed to support Malema. Not because he is a Socialist – he doesn’t have to be one! He’s young, he talks straight, and he is riding an anti-neoliberalism tide that is rising. He is just the right guy in the right place at the right time. Oliver Tambo said that a country that does not take care of its youth has no future… and doesn’t deserve one. By that criteria, the ANC does not deserve to be re-elected.

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