What the verdict means

2011-11-11 00:00

JULIUS Malema’s biographer Fiona Forde sees a clever hand at play in the way the African National Congress has dealt with the youth league president. His sentencing effectively leaves him out in the cold. He can no longer be in the structures of the ANC and the youth league.

Forde believes that the ANC has left Malema with very little room to manoeuvre and that the disciplinary hearing could well see the end of his political career. However, having spent months with him, Forde is also aware that Malema is not quite the buffoon that most people think he is. She found him to be an astute, cunning and wily politician, and agreed that it is far too early to write his political obituary.

I asked Forde and University of KwaZulu-Natal politics lecturer Sanele Nene what the verdict of Malema’s disciplinary hearing means for him, for the ANC and for the rest of South Africa.

Forde and Nene agreed that the disciplinary hearing marks the drawing of battle lines. It is the start of the consolidation of factions in the build-up to the ANC’s national elective conference to be held in Mangaung in December next year. Since yesterday just about every aspect of our political landscape is going to be coloured by the succession battle. The journey to Mangaung has well and truly begun.

What does the verdict mean to Malema? According to Forde, where the ANC was clever was in the handing down of the suspended sentence. Malema had a two-year suspended sentence hanging over his head since he pleaded guilty in May 2010 for criticising President Jacob Zuma. She believes that he cannot appeal that sentence because he pleaded guilty. With an appeal hanging over his head and having to work through the detail of a 136-page judgement he is effectively stymied until well after the Mangaung conference.

It will be difficult to be a youth league president under such constraints and Forde reminds us that there are many members within the youth league with ambitions of their own. They will see this verdict as a gap to begin to make their mark.

She also says that the way the sentencing has been worded means that Malema will have to be very careful about how he conducts himself in future because he could face legal challenges.

Surely he will be free to work quietly in the background at ANC branch and regional levels to garner support for members of the party whom he wants elected at Mangaung. Forde does not believe he will have much success on this front. Politicians are riding out their own ambitions. Who will want somebody who is an outcast to canvass on their behalf, she asks.

Then there are the tenderpreneurs who are only with you because of the influence you wield in getting them contracts. They could already have their eyes trained on the next rising stars who would help further their fortunes.

Having painted what she sees as a realistic picture, Forde recognises that Malema is no fool He is a political animal and the ANC has been his entire life. She does not see him sailing quietly into the sunset

Nene also believes there are a number of consequences for Malema, the most important of which is that his position as the president of the ANCYL is effectively over.

His plan to oust ANC leader Jacob Zuma at the next ANC conference has effectively been scuppered

Nene believes members of the ANC and ANCYL may now also start to re-evaluate the balance of forces regarding the conference. “Today’s findings might frighten some members away from working with Malema or doing things that could be construed as ill-discipline by the ANC. In other words, whatever support Malema may have enjoyed may start to dwindle after today,” Nene says.

Nene endorses Forde’s view that his rich backers are going to desert him because he will no longer have the political clout to protect and advance their business interests.

According to Nene, for the ANC the verdict provides a glimpse of the ANC in all its glory. “I believe the members of the ANC, particularly the senior ones, who have been insisting on strengthening discipline in the organisation, will find it very commendable what the NDC has done.”

He believes the party may use this as a tool to reassure its members, ordinary South Africans and the international community that it can and does know how to handle its affairs. Nene says this might help boost investor and popular confidence in the ANC government.

As Derek Hanekom the disciplinary chairperson, said, it is important for the ANC to be seen to be following up and implementing its own resolutions on discipline.

Nene is mindful that some members of the ANC will be unhappy about the harshness of the sentences. But it would difficult to find a genuine disagreement of principle with the findings of disciplinary committee.

What happens now? I asked Nene. He says Malema has already said he will appeal the findings. The appeal may very likely shed light on the views of the disciplinary hearing among the 80-odd members of the National Executive Committee.

For me, Malema’s suspension leaves a vacuum for the unemployed youth who ignore the political hyprocrisy he displays in speaking for the poor on the one hand while living in the lap of luxury on the other. For many of them the future holds no hope and Malema articulated their desperation.

If the ANC wants to make this verdict count it should step into the breach and not just speak about it, but get programmes going to give this lost generation hope. If it seriously addresses the poverty in this country, it will make the Malema verdict count.

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