The silence is deafening

2012-01-08 11:36

It is the sound of silence. That is the best way to describe the larger than life presence of enfant terrible, Julius Malema, at the ANC’s centenary celebrations in Mangaung this weekend.

For the record, Malema will not speak. Unlike previous years when Youth League leaders have had the opportunity to address the birthday celebrations before the main speech by the ANC president, this is not happening in Mangaung.

The silence imposed on him, however, is loud. And it is a huge silence, for it is not only him who has now been deprived of a platform: the Women’s League, Umkhonto Veterans, alliance partners Cosatu and SACP, have all been silenced and have accepted it.

ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete says this is because of time constraints. Really, sisi. You expect anyone to buy that? Anyway, why is there no time this year? This after-all, is the 100 year celebration that has been planned for months, if not years.

Did those planning the jamboree forget to factor in these messages? Who more than the constituent organs of this movement to say where they have come from and how proud they are of their contributions?

You do not need to be extra clever to realise what has happened. Malema’s bellicose behaviour of late has become not only irritating but insulting. The exhortation of past leaders at rallies minus the present is pointed. But if anyone was still in doubt, the shower song in Polokwane a few weeks ago completes the insults and rubs salt into the showered head’s wound.

And so the question that confronted the leadership was what to do in Mangaung? They had tried to have Malema expelled but the appeal process is still ongoing and therefore he remains the reigning king of the kindergarten. Could they take the risk and hope that even he would recognise the solemnity of the occasion and behave?

They have obviously decided they can’t take that risk. And so time is suddenly scarce, we are told. But to remove Malema alone would be too obvious.

Hence all the speeches that Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi, as well as Umkhonto and the Women’s League prepared, will now go into a book. Vavi’s speech was distributed to the media on Wednesday without an embargo.

A speech in a book is better than nothing, one can rationalise, but the moment in the sun of the 100 years’ celebration is gone. If Malema can’t speak, no one can. That is the power that Malema seems to exercise over the ANC at this moment.
And it is immense.

In this context, he does not need the moment at the podium: he is the podium. Everything happening there is viewed through the prism of the Malema factor.

And that is the tragedy of this whole episode. This glorious movement formed by Africa’s best, dedicated to achieving what was good for all people, has been reduced to a squabbling entity of groups that cannot even be sure their youth leadership can be trusted with a few minutes on stage.

It is an indictment on the entire leadership collective that refused to take the risk of a Malema on stage, and those who, when told, agreed to let that decision stand. It is a sign of failed leadership that lacks the courage of its own conviction.
A leadership that, though aware of what is right, is prepared to go along with the wrong if it can help secure its own political survival at the same venue in a few months’ time.

And so, as President Gedleyihlekisa Zuma stands to speak on Sunday, it will not be what he will be saying that many people will hear, but rather what Malema did not say.

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