Battle of the presidents

2010-04-24 00:00

A LINE was drawn in the sand between the ANC and its youth league late on Tuesday evening in the conference room on the sixth floor of the ANC’s headquarters, Luthuli House in Johannesburg.

Present at the meeting will have been President Jacob Zuma, his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, the party’s deputy secretary-general, Thandi Modise, and presumably party chairman Baleka Mbete.

Sitting across from them will have been the party’s controversial youth leader, Julius Malema, and some of his confidants.

Secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, known to be a youth league foe, and treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, a quiet Malema supporter, were not present.

Phosa did not attend the meeting at all, while Mantashe left early to attend a family member’s graduation ceremony.

The upshot of the discussion was a short statement issued the next day in which the party indicated that it has not instituted any official disciplinary procedures against Malema, as had been surmised, but that such a step was not excluded.

“Various processes” — the kind of rhetoric the ANC is so fond of using — will determine some time in the future whether Malema will be officially charged with misconduct.

Just don’t ask for details.

The ANC does not wish to say any­thing more. “This is an internal ANC matter and will remain that way,” Modise said.

No matter that Zuma himself has said that Malema’s utterances are harming South Africa.

The ANC is not about to institute disciplinary steps against Malema that readily.

Zuma’s very public reprimand last weekend is as far as this affair is likely to go.

Those in the ANC — and there are many — who believe Malema to be a puffed-up imbecile who needs to be loudly, clearly and publicly put in his place can kiss that likelihood goodbye.

All indications are that Malema won.

Zuma’s statement shortly before leaving for Washington, in which he described Malema’s conduct as foreign to ANC culture, took the ANC Youth League by surprise.

And it wasn’t Zuma’s criticism of “Dubul’ibhunu” or of Malema’s pronouncements on the murdered Eugene Terre’Blanche that upset the youth. It was Zuma’s attack on Malema for the youth leader’s visit to Zimbabwe.

Malema believes, probably not without reason, that Zuma gave him the green light to visit Zimbabwe.

Zuma even asked Malema to convey his greetings to Mugabe … How could the president now turn around and criticise the youth leader in public?

A Malema ally (with a Johnny Walker in hand) explained in detail this week how Malema went about solidifying his position.

It all relates to the ANC leader’s protracted legal problems that were brought to an end for him by the National Prosecuting Authority shortly before last year’s elections.

“We stood by him when it was not at all fashionable to do so. We supported him enthusiastically and loudly during his rape case and the protracted corruption saga.

“How the hell does he dare to turn around and attack us now?”

Emotions are running riot, and Tuesday night’s meeting in Luthuli House was far less of a hiding for the youth league than it was the spelling out of a few uncomfortable facts by Malema to Zuma.

According to some sources, the youth league started lighting the celebration fires as early as Tuesday afternoon and rumours quickly spread that the party was the first one to blink. Modise’s statement the following day had the Malemaites puffing their chests a long way out.

They had taken Zuma on and beaten him. And they are well aware of the implications.

Malema and Co. told Zuma they are not the enemy. The enemy is within, in the form of Mantashe, the SA Communist Party and Cosatu. They want to hijack the ANC and must be stopped.

If Zuma wants to oppose the youth league, then so be it, but former president Thabo Mbeki also did that, and see what happened to him.

That’s how the logic goes.

Said a prominent figure in Malema circles,“Zuma made a big mistake. He was deeply indebted to us. Now he’s bankrupt. To restore this relationship will be difficult, but we’ll give him another chance.

“The time of handing him a blank cheque is past.”

The ANC’s failure to follow through on its reprimanding of Malema presents all kinds of opportunists with the chance to exploit the division in the governing party in the run-up to the 2012 leadership elections.

It strengthens the perception that the youth league, the smug string-pullers and kingmakers, are almost untouchable. It will also make it difficult for Zuma to maintain his authority with credibility.

Many other ANC members — including veteran MPs and former deputy ministers — believe the Malema phenomenon is largely a fabrication by the media.

The front pages, TV interviews and controversy were the oxygen on which Malema lived and which generously fed his massive ego.

“He’s an idiot. There is nothing inside there,” says one of them irritably as he taps his left temple with his index finger.

But the crux of the matter, a point on which both Malemaites and his enemies in the party agree, is: “The new leadership built their support base thanks to the noise that he made … It’s almost impossible for them to get rid of him.”

A line was drawn in the conference room on the sixth floor of Luthuli House on Tuesday night.

And it was not Zuma who drew it.

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