There are two views on what impact ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema has had on the country’s political landscape this year.
The one is that he successfully forced the ruling party to seriously consider nationalising the country’s mines and pushed President Jacob Zuma to appoint younger ministers in his Cabinet.
The ANC has since appointed independent researchers to investigate the viability of nationalising mines before it becomes party policy in 2012.
The other viewpoint is that the ANCYL president was stopped in his tracks at the ANC national general council (NGC) in September when Zuma et al almost hauled Malema to a disciplinary hearing for storming the stage during a debate on how the resolution on nationalisation should be written.
Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of labour federation Cosatu, said the NGC struck a blow at the “new tendency”, a grouping of tenderpreneurs in the ANC that Malema is said to represent.
Cosatu and the SA Communist Party (SACP) have always said the reason the Youth League demanded the nationalisation of South Africa’s mines was to bail out struggling black economic empowerment companies with ties to Malema.
Vavi said: “The new tendency of tenderpreneurs was isolated and exposed, and their programme completely disrupted.
The NGC categorically stated that it must go down in history as the ‘gathering that marked a decisive turning point in tackling, arresting and reversing the negative tendencies that have eroded the political integrity and moral standing of the ANC’.”
Vavi said it would take a series of blunders on the part of the ANC leadership to allow the party to return to the pre-NGC political environment.
At that time, the Youth League had threatened not to elect into office leaders who did not support its call for nationalisation.
There was also talk that the league planned to elect Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula in place of ANC leader Gwede Mantashe.
The left – Cosatu and the SACP – saw this as an attempt to kick Mantashe out so that Malema, through Mbalula, could take total control of the ANC.
After his inauguration last year, Zuma appointed Mbalula, a close friend of Malema, as deputy police minister.
On October 30, Zuma elevated Mbalula to head the sports ministry, a move that delighted the Youth League.
Malema courted controversy as early as February when it emerged that he had won tenders worth R130 million from the Limpopo provincial government.
He denied this, but the controversy continued until he and Floyd Shivambu, the ANCYL spokesperson, attempted to intimidate journalists who reported about his companies.
Shivambu threatened to leak their private information.
A group of journalists lodged a complaint against him and he has since retreated.
In March, the Equality Court found Malema guilty of hate speech for saying that the woman who accused Zuma of rape had had a “nice time” because she “requested breakfast and taxi money” before she left Zuma’s house.
He was fined R50 000 and ordered to apologise to the woman.
Malema made the comments at a students’ congress in Cape Town last year.
A month later, the ANC hauled him before its national disciplinary hearing for bringing the ruling party and its government into disrepute.
Malema – who had gone on a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe to see what the Youth League could learn from Robert Mugabe’s chaotic land-reform programme – heaped praise on the Zanu-PF leader, saying South Africa would follow his lead.
However, he poured scorn on Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
At the time, Zuma was trying to broker peace between Mugabe and Tsvangirai.
Malema also ejected BBC journalist Jonah Fisher, calling him a “bastard” and a “bloody agent”, from a press conference he held at Luthuli House, the ANC head office, on his return from Harare.
All these events, including him singing “Dubul’ibhunu” while Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terre’Blanche had been killed, incensed Zuma so much that he lodged a complaint against Malema.
The Youth League president, however, hit back, saying Zuma was worse than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki.
AWB members attributed their leader’s death to the song.
In May, Malema pleaded guilty to criticising Zuma after Zuma publicly censured him. He was ordered to publicly apologise to Zuma, was fined R10 000 and instructed to attend anger management classes.
Three charges – attacking Fisher, endorsing Mugabe and singing the song Dubul’ibhunu at a time when Zuma was attempting to calm the nation after Terre’Blanche’s death – were dropped.
Last month, the police withdrew the bodyguards they provided to Malema at a cost of R886 000, fuelling speculation that the move was meant to show that Malema had fallen out of favour with Zuma.
Malema (29) is likely to serve a second term as ANCYL president when the league holds its elective conference in June.
Whether he succeeded in his battles within the ruling party or not, Malema was a talking point among many South Africans this year.