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Playing the victim: Malema’s survival strategy

ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and company have the ruling party exactly where they want it to be – i.e. they have got the ANC to mete out the harshest punishment possible. To their credit, I’m sure the ANC itself knows exactly where Malema wants it to be.

It has become clear that Malema never bargained on President Jacob Zuma asserting his authority and having him hauled in front of a disciplinary committee. Clearly, Malema didn’t understand the game of brinksmanship that Zuma had so mastered against former president Thabo Mbeki.

Malema seemed to have adopted the same modus operandi that Zuma employed in his fight against Mbeki but he missed one point: both Mbeki and Zuma seemed to know how far to push and when to back down.

Malema is simply a novice who thought he could cut and paste the Polokwane tactics into the Mangaung fight. What he didn’t bargain on was that Zuma would be emphatic in his response. Zuma has far more to lose than Mbeki had back in Polokwane. Mbeki was only fighting for Luthuli House while Zuma is fighting for both Luthuli House and the Union Buildings.

What makes Zuma even more dangerous is that there is always a chance that the fraud and corruption charges against him could be reinstated if he loses control of the party and the state. Malema and his backers don’t seem to have factored in those dynamics when they decided it was time Zuma was replaced. So when the response from Zuma became clearly devastating to the Malema-fronted campaign, the wheels started to come off. Backers started asking themselves if Malema was the right man to spearhead their campaign.

Malema is now left on his own with his ANCYL peers to fight off the Zuma onslaught. Remember that Zuma almost learnt the hard way that you don’t leave a dead snake lying around; you finish it off by burning it and scattering the ashes in the sea.

When it became apparent that Zuma would be taking no prisoners, the strategy was to force him to play his harshest hand when dealing with Malema and his peers, who then went on to spin such harsh actions against him as actions against the youth league as a whole. Zuma would appear to be fighting the youth league about its calls for nationalisation. Genius!

Only, it is too risky.

From the onset of the disciplinary process, the writing was on the wall for Julius. He stood no chance. So he had to get the national disciplinary committee (NDC) to mete out the harshest sanction. Hence the continuous barrage of insults hurled against Zuma and his supporters, and the NDC and its chairperson. Recently, we have seen ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu, who is charged with Malema, fire a salvo at national disciplinary committee of appeals (NDCA) chairperson, Cyril Ramaphosa.

All the threats to defy the ANC if Malema is expelled and the assertions that the youth league is ‘independent’ of the ANC are designed to force the ANC to act against the entire ANCYL NEC. We all view this as madness and ill-discipline by desperate individuals on their way out of the ANC. We couldn’t be more wrong.

This is a strategy, as I have said, designed to force the ANC to deal with them harshly so they appear as victims. Let us break this down. If Malema’s expulsion is upheld by Ramaphosa’s NDCA, then Malema can hope for a review by the ANC NEC but Zuma seems to have a firm grip on the NEC and Malema doesn’t seem to stand a chance. Most importantly, he has an option to have someone raise his issue from the floor at the national conference in Mangaung in December. That is where the bets are! He is hoping that he can keep his momentum going until then and then appeal to the emotions of the branch delegates at Mangaung to vote for him to be reinstated.

For Malema to appeal to those emotions, he has to appear the victim. He has to be paraded in Mangaung as a badly wounded “economic freedom fighter” who was expelled for articulating the “policies” of the youth league. The tricky part for him though is that his fight to remain in the ANC was never in the original plan to oust Zuma so he might lose backers who simply want to concentrate on ousting Zuma and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, and replace them with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and sports minister Fikile Mbalula respectively.

Could the fight to keep Malema in the ANC be bigger than the fight to replace Zuma? I doubt it.


  • Despite his full-time duty of being a father to two girls and one boy, Nco Dube spends ample time fulfilling his passion for reading and writing. He is not a journalist but he writes from the heart, from an ordinary "man on the street's" perspective. His views are shaped by what's in the public domain and his analysis informed by his extensive reading and interaction with other ordinary South Africans from all walks of life. Dube is a marketer by profession who runs an experiential marketing company and is also a freelance events producer. He went to Catholic schools including St Francis College in Marriannhill and studied at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Unisa. You can follow him on twitter: @ncodube and on Facebook: Nco Dube


  1. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 18 April 2012

    This is not about Zuma and Malema. Many ordinary citizens, not just memebrs of the ANC, and even members of opposition parties, find Malema’s arrogance and determination to be both Kingmaker and Policymaker appalling.

  2. Sthe Sthe 18 April 2012

    I think the writer gives Malema and his ANC YL cohorts too much, undeserved credit. They miscalculated, period. No grand strategy whatsoever.

  3. AL AL 18 April 2012

    Interesting piece of writing. Thought provoking and very insightful. Thank you very much.

  4. The Creator The Creator 18 April 2012

    It seems that any South African journalist who includes the name “Malema” in any kind of article is poisoned and becomes extraordinarily stupid, and therefore writes extraordinarily stupid articles like this one.

    Look, obviously Malema didn’t expect to be hauled before the disciplinary committee. That’s because he never said anything which justified such a hauling. His big problem was that he took some of what Zuma had said before Polokwane seriously.

    But there’s no comparison between Zuma vs. Mbeki and Malema vs. Zuma. Zuma vs. Mbeki was all about Zuma’s greed — there were no principles or ideologies involved — and the enormous power of big business and the press which was behind Zuma. Malema vs. Zuma has principles on Malema’s side, but all the power is on Zuma’s side, so naturally Zuma wins.

    The ANCYL never planned to oust Zuma until Zuma made it crystal clear that he was going to crush the ANCYL. Pretending that this was some kind of long-term game doesn’t pass any smelltest.

  5. Rich Brauer Rich Brauer 18 April 2012

    @The Creator: ” Zuma vs. Mbeki was all about… the enormous power of big business and the press which was behind Zuma.”

    Heh. Heh heh. Haha. HAHA. HAHAHAHA!

    Oh, that’s a good one.

    You’re talking about the press? The group that loved nothing more than Zapiro’s Showerhead? Who sold massive numbers of papers on the arms deal and rape trial?

    Or big business and their approval of *Thabo Mbeki* vs. Jacob Zuma? Zuma, who had the endorsement of SACP and the Youth League? Who pushed Trevor Manuel out of Finance after 13 years? Trevor Manuel? Who regularly received sterling reviews from foreign investors and the financial press?

    Maybe you should go back and read some actual press coverage from 2008, because your grasp of recent history is, obviously, laughable.

  6. T Bone T Bone 18 April 2012

    Very, very well argued. Zuma, unlike Malema, could not only see around corners, but as you note, had so much more riding on the outcome of the fight. When you face a stack of charges, which are only held off by your control of the party and the state, you are kind of gloves off from the moment you step into the boxing ring. Malema has been naive and less well connected than he thinks he is. The charade of nationalisation is so weak for a Gucci-wearing crony capitalist, even the most hopeful of his supporters know it is utter bullsh*t. Finally – for Malema to rely on pretending to support actual ideas – like nationalisation – rather than cronyism and nepotism and trading favours for support – mean that he is fighting with his weakest hand, and without the only thing that he is really good at. He is knocked out from the ring…..

  7. Benzo Benzo 18 April 2012

    “Hence the continuous barrage of insults hurled against Zuma and his supporters, and the NDC and its chairperson……..”

    There are no winners in wars. Both, the ANC and his YL are coming out of this war damaged in the public eye. Must we all wait for governing to take place again untill this war game is over and concluded, if ever??? Public trust and respect in the ANC is the biggest victim on this altar of ego trippers.

    After all we pay these guys to work for SA, not for their own ego or back pocket.

  8. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 18 April 2012

    @Beddy, why does the author keep dwelling on Malema and Zuma like they are some great statesman? Malema was used by Zuma to help him come to power and after he came to power, Malema turned on Zuma like the YL in NAZIS Germany did to Hitler so, Hitler had him removed in the night of long knives. What one see going on in SA are the flaws in this country democracy because it’s fake. The people in the party should be voting on who they want to lead the party and not kingmakers.

  9. Mike Mike 19 April 2012

    Have you considered that the whole incident suits Zuma more than Malema?

    While Malema continues with never ending reviews and appeals; Malema and the ANCYL can’t actively campaign against him. Compare the current situation with the one prevalent in 2006/07 when the ANCYL under Mbalula spent 2 years organising the downfall of Mbeki.

    By time the disciplinary committee expels or exonerates Malema, he is going to have 3 months max to organise the putsch. This is not enough time to march, sing and dance on one leg in order to garner the pro-Mothlanthe support.

  10. Peter Joffe Peter Joffe 19 April 2012

    Suspension – what suspension? Expelled, what expulsion? Disciplinary Committee – what Disciplinary committee? Zuma cracks the whip – what whip?
    All that has happened is that the ANC, who are obviously useless at everything they try (except raiding the treasury) is now in the eternal “appeals’ phase. If you cannot make a decision and back it up with the whip then the decision is worth nothing at all. Clowns trying to tell other clowns how to be a clown. This is a good demonstration of where our courts are going if the accused is an ANC fat cat. Appeal after appeal after appeal on full paid leave. Zuma has no whip to crack as he has no commitment to good governance and does not want to make a mistake – so the answer is put on a circus and keep on doing nothing. He who makes no mistakes never made anything either so the ANC will try to cover their ineptitude with procrastination. It is still patently clear that the real power in this country lies with Malema. In the past we always wondered who was ‘running’ the country and now we know for sure. Perhaps after the next General elections we will have a new president, Ju Ju, but he will still be on suspension and still be appealing? The present ANC top dogs are too scared to seriously investigate the obvious tender fraud that is going on, because many of them are involved as well. What does JuJu know about Zuma and what does Zuma know about Juju. A can of worms that is best left unopened?

  11. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 19 April 2012

    @Joffe, the author of this article will never write what you have commented on the ANC led government. Your comment is well taken and keep up the good work by shining the light so, many of the blind can see that SA is descending into chaos.

  12. Benzo Benzo 19 April 2012

    @Joffe” “… the answer is put on a circus and keep on doing nothing.

    As in a real circus: the ring is in the middle and the public is amused and paying for it…..while the “Clowns trying to tell other clowns how to be a clown”.

    Lovely performance, little expensive though for a developing nation!!

  13. MLH MLH 19 April 2012

    What passes for politics in this country seems more like a spat in a pre-school playground. Wherever it gets us, it seems hardly likely to improve us.

  14. Nco Dube Nco Dube 19 April 2012

    Ferguson, only a fool does not see we are on a downward spiral. You obviously havent read most of my work. Please visit

  15. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 20 April 2012

    @Dube, I have just discovered your work and I will be reading the other articles of yours.

  16. Tarupiwa Tarupiwa 21 April 2012

    There is just something I like about Malema, though I cant realy put my finger to it. I respect a man who makes a wrong decesion than a man who fails to make a decision at all. Zuma is undecided about his and SA’s destiny – he merely puts everything on a wait and see platform. Malema made a decision and everyone knows his position albeit a bad one. Its a choice between whats on the table and whats still cooking in the kitchen. What you see with your eyes and probably empty promises of better things tomorow. Zuma is still riding high BUT for how long? He can only be forced to be blunder. Alas, people are watching, and – of washing one’s dirty linens in public. The wiser thing to do, is for Zuma to buy Malema out – a judas iscariot pension. That way – he gets a clean second term.

  17. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 21 April 2012

    @Tarupiwa, Zuma has said before the election that he had no idea of running the government but, to do whatever the party tells him to do. Why do you think Zuma should make decisions when the people didn’t elect him to office the party elected him and they can recall him when ever they want. The party leadership is the one that got rid of Malema and not Zuma. Zuma wasn’t directly elected by the people and don’t think he has power to do anything. You should be arguing for SA to have direct elections so the president will have a mandate from the people to make decisions.

  18. Tammi Tammi 10 August 2013

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