It’s time Julius Malema had some afternoon tea with SA President Jacob Zuma. This followed by a single malt evening with former president Thabo Mbeki. If ever there was a time for Malema to think outside the box, this is it. Though he has the option of appealing, there are dire implications, whichever way one looks at this entire saga. In five years’ time he will be too old to qualify as a member of the ANC Youth League, let alone be its president. While others will be plotting, conspiring and caucusing away for the elective conference in Mangaung, Malema will be focussing on his suspension and how to get it annulled or suspended. He might also be too busy putting out the fiery ambitions of persons contesting his leadership within the youth league. All of next year, starting on January 8 2012, the ANC will be celebrating its centenary. The celebrations may, among many things, be used to cement the exclusion of the likes of Malema.
Effectively the ANC has removed its authority, sponsorship, underwriting and “protection” of Malema. He himself said once — taunting those who defected from the ANC to join Cope — that it’s cold outside the ANC. Even if he appeals and retains his position and membership for the duration of the appeal, he will only do so as a marked and stigmatised leader. One whose case is under appeal and whose future and authority is undetermined, compromised, unstable and insecure.
Of course he was “used” in the run-up to Polokwane. But the “using” was mutual and consensual (remember that word?). Malema was no pawn in this sorry saga. He was an active agent. Both parties benefited from “using” one another and both parties were hypocritical. Just because politicians have fallen out, does not mean some are better or worse than others. The argument that Malema should not be sanctioned because culprits with conduct similar to his have not been sanctioned before is a rather desperate and illogical one. I grant that the absence of an opportunity for mitigation may be the one matter on which I think the disciplinary committee might have erred procedurally. But this is a matter to which, among others, the “respondents” can address themselves through the appeal process, I suppose.
As for the question of the youth of Malema and the need to correct rather than punish him, I assume the disciplinary committee has had to do a cost-benefit analysis in terms of the impact of his conduct. They have reckoned it is “cheaper” to suspend him. In short they have surmised that whatever benefits Malema accrues to the party such benefits are outstripped by the costs he incurs for the party.
Clearly his influence at the 2012 conference has been dealt a big blow. His “economic-freedom-in-our-life-time” project is in serious danger of collapse, if it has not begun to crumble already. But let’s not confuse cause and effect. These are the effects of his suspension not the causes.
But there are other effects for the ANC and its youth league. If Malema is a symptom of a creeping malaise in the party, his suspension must not be mistaken for the eradication of the root cause of the problem. A “fall guy” — even if his name is Malema — will not be sufficient for the ANC to regain its former stature and moral authority. It’s time for those who claim to be devoted and loyal to the ANC to fix what is wrong with the party — at root and they must start with themselves.
Can Malema bounce back? Of course he can. This will depend on him not wasting what remains of his youth. Though there are individuals who have fallen out of favour with the party, there are really no precedents and examples for him to follow. No youth league leader has ever been sanctioned in this manner. No youth leader has quite been like Malema, some will argue.
So I return to the trite matter of the two elderly gentlemen I referred to in the first paragraph. They have the closest, most recent experience to the one Malema is going through now. They have immense experience in political activism and leadership — something young Malema has very little of.
Mbeki — someone whose value and wisdom Malema seems to have been on the verge of rediscovering. But this five-year suspension interrupted him rudely. Mbeki could talk to Malema about his thorny road to Polokwane; his experience in building structures, processes and institutions; the humiliation of his recalling as well as the pain of it all. Mbeki could talk to him about life after recall and how to maintain one’s sanity and dignity. The other man who could be a valuable source of wisdom and advice is none other than Zuma. With JZ, Malema could discuss the events of June 14 2005, the day Zuma lost his job as deputy president. A detailed tour of the road travelled by Zuma from June 14 2005 to December 18 2007 — that being the day Zuma was elected president of the ANC — is just what Malema needs at this time. Zuma could point out to the young man that even after December 2007, a lot more remained to be done. The Scorpions were still pursuing Zuma — all through 2008. It was not until April 6 2009 that the Scorpions were neutralised forever. And this was done without Zuma intervening in any direct manner — an art Malema is yet to learn.
Estranged from Mbeki in whose demise he once rejoiced; alienated from Zuma for who he was once prepared to die; cut off from the ANC — the organisation from which he derives all his fame, fortune and power — Malema is truly on his own.
Let Malema eat humble-pie, let him gird his loins, let him bite his teeth and go knocking at the door of Zuma and Mbeki. This is best done in the dead of night when journalists are fast asleep. When the door opens, I suggest he scratches his head properly from back to front — like the good African young man he is about to become — and then nervously rub his hands against each other, respectfully avoiding direct eye contact and say one word only: eish!