The hate-speech trial of ANC Youth League president Julius Malema may help boost his political fortunes, but the jury is still out on whether it will be good for the ANC.
Many seem to agree that Malema’s performance in the dock at the Johannesburg Equality Court this week has undermined the widely held perception that he is a buffoon.
Afrikaner civil rights group AfriForum brought a case of hate speech against Malema to bar him from singing a liberation song that contains the words: Dubul’ ibhunu (shoot the boer).
Malema’s defence strategy has been to shift the focus away from his actions to the liberation struggle itself.
Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said the youth league leader would come out of the trial “strongly in political terms”.
Malema faces no significant challenge for his leadership of the league, which will have an elective conference in mid-June.
One of the positive things for the ruling party from the Malema trial is that it has papered over the cracks in the ANC.
The support given to Malema by senior party leaders Gwede Mantashe and Collins Chabane presented to the public the image of an united organisation fighting to preserve the legitimacy of its legacy.
ANC national executive committee member Fikile Mbalula also supports Malema, saying he has proved those who doubted his intellect wrong.
It remains to be seen if the case will help mobilise disillusioned ANC voters, who otherwise might choose apathy rather than vote for a party they feel has let them down.
“(Court) arguments will be within three weeks, at the peak of the elections campaign. So this matter will be dominating the news at the peak of the campaign,” said Matshiqi.
“It is possible that if the Transvaal Agricultural Union and AfriForum continue to argue the way they did in court, they might force even frustrated black voters to vote not for the ANC but against the opposition on May 18.”
But there are those who believe the Malema trial has not helped the ANC campaign.
Two national leaders of the tripartite alliance told City Press that the financial and human resources used for the trial could rather have been used in the ANC’s campaign.
One leader said the case might actually hurt the party’s campaign in conservative communities, such as the coloured community in Western Cape.
“I think it’s unfortunate that this case is taking place. It does not help our election campaign in so far as we try to reach a wider constituency,” said the leader.
“I think the song can’t be abandoned but after this case we must reach out to Afrikaners. We have the right to sing (the song). Once we have won that right, we don’t have to exercise it.”
“I think it is wishful thinking to say that our campaign among Afrikaners will be undermined. The case provided a platform for the ANC to clarify its position on the singing of songs and heritage,” he told City Press.
“I don’t see how the trial can undermine the ANC campaign. It was a great platform for the articulation of the ANC view on heritage and the debate will go beyond the elections.”
Political analyst Steven Friedman said the case was unlikely to have any effect on the core ANC constituency as it was more concerned about service delivery.
“If you ask many people what the ANC’s (election) message is, you’ll find there is no clear message this time around. The fact of the case doesn’t mean it will have a clear message,” said Friedman.