Malema’s a clown... but no one is laughing

2009-09-02 00:00

AN article in the Times of London recently was headlined “Gadaffi is a clown, but no one is laughing”. It was written by that splendid Iranian-in-exile commentator Amir Taheri. The same might be said about Julius Malema — he is the ANC’s clown, but no one is laughing. From time to time, an ANC elder delivers a mild rebuke or President Jacob Zuma says Malema is “young and still learning”. But Malema bounces back with the next outrageous remark. The latest Malemaism is that the “economic cluster” in the cabinet is ethnically unbalanced. As president of the ANC Youth League, he warns that future appointments must comply with official guidelines on “demographic representivity”: employment in both the government and private sectors in proportion to ethnic populations.

Currently, Finance (Pravin Gordhan), Economic Development (Ebrahim Patel), Trade and Industry (Rob Davies), Public Enterprises (Barbara Hogan) and new Reserve Bank governor (Gill Marcus) are minorities, meaning that they are Indians and whites (coloureds no doubt are also a minority). Africans should have been appointed to their places.

It will be noted that the ANCYL statement groups the corporate sector with the ministries, confirming reports that a new squeeze is to be put on the private sector to conform to “demographic representivity”.

Africans­ number 37 million of the total 47 million South African population, and at current 61% of government employees are black, which one would have thought is satisfactory for the present, seeing that it just about touches the 66% polled by the ANC in the April 22 general elections.

Both the Minister of Labour (Membathisisi Mdladlana) and the chairman of the Commission for Employment Equity (Jimmy Manyi) lashed out recently.

“Those who are not playing the ball we will name and shame” (Manyi), and “comply with the law instead of manufacturing a revolution ... the revolution will be a revolution of all black people” (Mdlalana). Currently, says Mdlalana, the law is “very forgiving”, but now there will be many more prosecutions and fines will be escalated, possibly to 10% of a company’s turn­over. The fault lines between the ANC’s business and labour policies emerge with stark visibility here. For a cabinet minister to threaten a black revolution is outright racism. What is he doing in Zuma’s new cabinet?

Malema has been supported publicly over minorities by three high-profile ANC members: Nathi Mthethwa (Minister of Police), Lindiwe Sisulu (Defence and Military Veterans) and Tony Yengeni (former ANC chief whip, who spent some time in the cooler, but now is a member of the ANC’s inner core national working committee, as is Malema). Anti-Malemaists are also members of the National Working committee (NWC), so the scene is set for infighting in the most intense sense of the word.

A media report quotes an NWC member as saying the radical way to address the whole issue is for Zuma to reshuffle his cabinet — announced as recently as May 10 — but the ANCYL­ rejects this. Its concern is with all future appointments, which means that the historic concept of a presidential prerogative over cabinet appointments, as spelt out in the Constitution, would be overridden by brute force from the ranks.

Malema’s outburst has widened the new, dangerous rift in the Tripartite Alliance (ANC, Cosatu, SA Communist Party, who jointly, if theoretically, govern South Africa). This precisely is the kind of rift that brought Thabo Mbeki down: labour and street muscle versus the government.

An angry Gwede Mantashe (ANC secretary general and chairman of the SACP) asked why ministers are today being called the minority group, which is not a familiar word used in the (non-racial) ANC.

Mantashe wants to know if critics of the appointments have adopted a new way of talking in the ANC (for sure they have).

At a meeting on Monday last week, the NWC discussed the matter­. A party official quoted Lindiwe­ Sisulu (head of the ANC’s social transformation committee), as telling the NWC that the ANC “should not be ashamed of empowering and affirming black people in positions of power”.

Possible conclusions can be drawn from the ferment of last week. One is that Zuma’s main backers — the ANCYL­, Cosatu and the SACP — appear not to have been part of an inner collective (if one exists) which guided Zuma into composing his huge 34 minister cabinet, with its 28 deputy ministers, on May 10.

Appointment of ministers, as noted, is a presidential prerogative, but in the current volatile politics it is unlikely that Zuma did not have advisers and inhouse strategists.

There are unknown factors. By the ANC’s rule book, national conferences are supreme, but the key institutions are the 84-member national executive committee (NEC), plus the 27-member NWC, which meets fortnightly.

Straddling the top of both committees is a six-member leadership, headed by Zuma. All or most of these six members, surely, are part of an inner collective (however vague the term might be) that confirmed the selection of minorities for the economic cluster.

But the NEC and the NWC include members who are both pro and antiMalema, so if the Malemaists are warring­ with the minorities, this is the makings of a Tripartite Alliance rift.

Speculation is permissible here. First, assume that Zuma is being steered, with his consent, by a collective and that this collective partially at least, is at a parting of the ways with the Malemaists, who are embarked on pushing the frontiers of transformation. This means that when push comes to shove, can the Malemaists muster enough support in the ANC to win? If so, then what the clown Malema says today, Zuma the president will announce as policy tomorrow. It’s a softening up.

Assume further that the Malemaists­’ strategy is to select the terrain of racism as the site for a battle with the non-Malemaists, and to press for the appointment of blacks in the public and private sector so ferociously that it becomes an open race combat. Expendable in this combat will be whites, Indians and coloureds. The Malemaists would have to accept this and fall back on black populism. At stake, is South Africa’s future, more especially its economic future, because strikes, township unrest and the like will be the Malemaists weapons of warfare.

This is not random speculation: if the Malemaists want to win, they have no other weaponry. And so the weary country awaits yet another struggle for that tattered, soiled old garment, the soul of the ANC.

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