The ANC’s young lions get mauled

2010-09-25 00:00

JULIUS Malema now knows what happens to young lions when they exhaust the patience of the patriarch. They are cuffed severely about the head and scuttle off to Mummy to have their shattered pride restored.

It’s a lesson that the African National Congress Youth League leader could have more comfortably learnt by watching the National Geographic channel.

Instead, he had the ignominy of being publicly slapped down by a newly assertive Jacob Zuma, then, to the sniggers of his mates, being enveloped in the consoling matriarchal embrace of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

One must wonder which is worse. To be klapped out of the blue by the president you’ve been taunting for being a scaredy cat, or to have to submit to the kiss of the Spider Woman.

How galling to be lectured on discipline by Madikizela-Mandela, the ANC’s most notorious loose cannon.

The disgraced former “mother of the nation” put her arm around his shoulders and patronisingly told him: “Every parent is allowed to talk to their children. Every organisation is like a parent. It does happen.”

As predicted in this column, it was a somewhat different Zuma at the ANC’s mid-term national general council meeting this week. Faced with predictions of his imminent presidential demise, Zuma showed the steel behind the avuncularity.

Whether this will suffice to protect Zuma’s hopes of a second term in office remains to be seen. Although he slapped down Malema, he kept his claws retracted.

The absence of blood-letting might not be a good thing. Since Zuma has now joined the deposed philosopher king, Thabo Mbeki, in drawing on Shakespeare to illuminate a point, he should recall the tragedy of Macbeth.

Macbeth warns his lady regarding King Duncan: “We have scotch’d the snake, not killed it”.

In other words, drawn the blood of the man who threatened their ambitions, but not destroyed him.

It is all very well for Zuma to warn that “juniors must respect their seniors … those who belong to junior structures must respect those serving in senior structures,” but it might be that Junior needs a good caning in the headmaster’s study rather than just a public slap. Already, by the end of the week, Malema was causing trouble again.

An interesting aspect of Zuma’s masterful but sometimes repetitive keynote speech was the question of whether the post-Polokwane ANC will choose “to fight to retain its historical character and task, or to abandon its history as a liberation movement and become a modern political party”.

He never answered the question, which is in any case rhetorical. The ANC, despite being in government, consistently identifies itself as a liberation movement. The reasons are multiple, not the least of them being that the “struggle” gives the ANC a real political edge among the previously disenfranchised.

The trouble is that liberation movements and political parties are fundamentally different in how they view the robust dissent of civil society.

Neither particularly likes the media, since they are invariably intrusive, critical and stir trouble. But political parties have had to come to terms with the mixed blessing that is a free press.

Liberation movements, however, once they come to power, see the media in a simplistically adversarial fashion. At worst, they are an impediment to the myth of “continuing revolution”, at best they are a set of useful idiots to be inspanned to the movement’s national vision.

It is scary that Zuma can, on the one hand, say with a straight face: “the alliance is not based on conformity and a monolithic interpretation of events”, while he simultaneously closes down the space in which one of the prime determinants of a democracy — a free media — operates.

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