Malema’s star wanes but his issues burn brightly

2012-03-10 11:01

This year is probably Julius Malema’s worst political year. The odds are heavily stacked against him making a comeback in party politics, and his once shining star has become dim.

But some of the ideas the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leader has championed resonate in the party’s policy discussion documents, suggesting perhaps Malema’s influence will be felt for some time after he is gone.

This may be partly because after nearly 20 years in office, the party needs to adopt a more radical rhetoric to assure the disenchanted among its constituency that it’s still serious about change.

After all, it is at a point where liberation movements tend to start to lose their grip on power.

It is not surprising the radical clamour for “economic freedom in our lifetime” is likely to reverberate with supporters more than calls for incremental policy changes.

For some time the youth league has been suggesting some of the provisions of the country’s Constitution have become a stumbling block to transformation.

Malema is on record as saying the Constitution’s “property clause” – which protects property in private hands from being expropriated by the state without fair compensation – should be amended to allow the state to ratchet up land reform.

Even though the current draft of the ANC’s “Stategy and Tactics” document is silent on amending the Constitution, an earlier version did call for the dropping of “sunset clauses”. ANC leaders have left that proposal out.

It would not be surprising if such a recommendation finds its way back to the final discussion documents as a proposal from branches. That way, it will carry more legitimacy and weight than if it was imposed from above.

Linked to that is the market-driven approach to land reform that has underpinned government policy for almost 18 years.

While the league is not the first organisation to point out that the “willing buyer, willing seller” approach has not yielded much fruit, it has been the most vocal.

In fact, Malema and his cohorts have gone so far as to demand land be seized without compensation to address skewed ownership.

The “Social Transformation” document reaffirms the view that the market-driven policy “tends to distort the land market through inflating the prices of land earmarked for restitution” and says this “has the dual effect of making land reform expensive and indeed delays the process of increasing the access of the poor to land”.

However, it remains to be seen if the final resolution from branches would be couched in more radical language.

The current document has also eschewed the youth league’s call for state intervention in the management of the Reserve Bank, even though the earlier draft had suggested as much.

Malema and his young lions have made nationalisation of the mines their pet project. It is something they have invoked almost as a mantra that would ward off all the social and economic evils that beset South African society.

The league even went so far as to say the country’s industrial strategy was likely to fail if it excluded state ownership and control of mineral resources.

But the ANC’s discussion document, entitled “State Intervention in the Minerals Sector”, has shied away from calling for government to take over mineral resources which are estimated to be worth about $2.5 trillion.

The discussion paper, which was commissioned by the ANC after the league’s vociferous push for nationalisation, warns that the country cannot afford partial or full nationalisation as it “could put our country in a situation where we lose fiscal sovereignty…” and it would cost over R1 trillion to acquire existing mining companies.

Instead, the document has called for a 50% rent tax on mining companies’ profits to speed up job creation.

The mooted tax is the middle point where the two opposing extremes of nationalisation – the private sector that rejects it and those who favour it – are likely to meet.

The resource nationalism fervour that is currently gripping the ANC is attributable to Malema’s obsession with increased state interference in the economy, and it is unlikely that we could be following this economic trajectory were it not for the ANCYL.

International front
There seems to be agreement between the ANC and its youth league that Nato’s intervention in Libya and the handling of the Ivory Coast crisis were bad for the “African agenda”.

But the two organisations differ on how to handle the political crisis in Swaziland.

While the youth league has adopted a resolution calling for Swaziland to be expelled from the SADC “until democracy is restored in that country”, the ANC merely states there is a need to discuss the implications of the situation in that country for the Southern African region.

Health and youth issues
On a more practical level, the league’s campaign for the doling out of sanitary towels to the poor seems to have caught on.

The youth league campaigned strongly on this issue during Malema’s first term, resulting in President Jacob Zuma promising to make these available in his January 8 speech.

But the ANC discussion document on gender suggests that government should only consider exempting sanitary towels and tampons from being taxed.

The same goes for the issue of youth unemployment that has been at the top of the league’s agenda in recent months.

The ANC discussion document on economic transformation acknowledges that unemployment is a problem that affects the young the most.

Last year’s anti-unemployment march from Johannesburg to Pretoria threw the matter into sharp relief.

Its solutions to the problem range from fixing the education system to “subsidising on the job training”.
Perhaps then the staying power of Malema’s ideas has nothing to do with his capacity to generate original ideas.

Rather, it derives from his ability to seize on the issues the ANC itself has raised in the past and popularise them. That way he has been able to put on the agenda issues that might have fallen by the wayside.

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