Nco Dube
Nco Dube

A lesson in political brinkmanship

President Jacob Zuma’s biggest strength is simply that most of us, including embattled ANC Youth League President Julius Malema, underestimate him. We look so much at his blunders and gaffes that we forget that he has in fact been a leader in the ANC for decades and has vast experience in that regard. We also seem to forget that behind that constant chuckle lies a veteran spy chief, mean negotiator and a master in political brinksmanship.

It seems Julius Malema and his bevy of advisors and political backers have underestimated the ANC president at every turn of their bruising power struggle. Malema’s biggest miscalculation was thinking Zuma wouldn’t act. Which he did.

We were all blind sighted by the seemingly meaningless show of unity the ANC’s top six leadership and didn’t see this bolt of lightning coming. I bet even Malema and his backers within the top six didn’t see it either, if they did, they must have seen it too late. Malema’s stunned silence after the suspension announcement is testimony to this.

Malema has shown himself to be a political novice who accumulated too much political clout too early. Before he learnt how it is dispensed, before he learnt the art of brinksmanship, as Dr Somadoda Fikeni put it. He just has no idea how far to push the envelope before backing down.

It somehow got to his head that he removed Thabo Mbeki from power. In his twisted mind he believes he put Zuma in power. This is so far from the truth it doesn’t even know how to spell the word “truth”.

Mbeki dug his own grave and even started burying himself in it after he had dug it. Also, it was Thabo Mbeki that unwittingly set the stage for Zuma’s rise to power. It is as simple as that. Malema, with all his insults played a miniscule role in that process.

There is an argument, by mostly Mbeki disciples, that Malema was allowed to insult Mbeki and is being dealt with now because he insulted Zuma, and this points to inconsistencies in how the ANC dispenses discipline. They are right, of course. But what they do not answer is how then Malema should be dealt with. Should he be left to continue with his barbaric politics and run the ANC (and the country with it) down?

It seems that the proponents of this argument miss the irony. That they are now defending the same Malema because it suits them just like Zuma turned a blind eye when it suited him.

He clearly wasn’t disciplined then because his madness suited those in power. If he were politically astute he would then know that he can’t use the same tactics against the very same people. It bares his lack of political maturity and even common sense.

There is also an argument that Malema is being persecuted, not for ill discipline, but rather for the league’s policy proposals on nationalisation and economic transformation. This is pure fiction designed to mobilise youth league members behind him. The Malema DC is purely about power within the ANC and its upcoming conference. The league’s preferred candidate for ANC president, Kgalema Motlanthe, has not demonstrated any views on nationalisation that are different from the official ANC position. He has in fact emphasised that position in the media and in Parliament.

What will be interesting is how the league will respond to this suspension given their undertaking that Malema will remain their President even if he is expelled by the ANC and their “absurd” assertion that the ANC NDC’s sanctions on league members are subject to a review by it.

The few league provinces that have reacted to the suspension have been hardly surprising but not as sharp and attacking as has been the norm.

The responses seem to forget the number of league structures that the Malema leadership has summarily disbanded and members that were summarily suspended pending charges, some of whom are still waiting for those charges months later, in contravention of the league’s constitution.

Evidence, rather than pointing to Zuma as a dictator points to tendencies exhibited by Malema himself towards opposing views within the league. In contrast to Malema’s assertions of dictatorship, Zuma has been accused of being indecisive and trying to please everybody. Poor leadership style yes, but hardly characteristics of a dictator.

Malema seems to have exhausted his political capital and has become a liability to his masters. He was a dedicated soldier for Fikile Mbalula’s campaign for the ANC’s secretary general position but we haven’t seen the astute Mbalula defending his friend as loudly as we would expect.

Julius has become, as he put it, a leper and people are afraid to be identified with him. One would remember Zuma, in the aftermath of the rape charges, being treated the same way. Is Malema in the same situation now? Will he bounce back like his former hero did?

One thing we must know is that when Malema goes he will not go with dignity like Mbeki did. He will not put the ANC or even the league ahead of himself.

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