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Doesn’t the Julius Malema saga feel so familiar?

Remember how the Jacob Zuma campaign seemed to transform each new obstacle placed in his path into fuel for his political train that eventually steamed triumphant into Polokwane in December 2007?

The fact that he was known far and wide as hopelessly incapable of moderating his sexual behaviour and as being on the take from, at least, Shabir Shaik, seemed to make almost no difference to the eventual outcome … unless the legal and other processes to charge him actually strengthened his claim to the presidency.

He was the victim of Mbeki’s shenanigans and he was heading a column of pro-poor ANC alliance cadres that were coming to take the ANC back from the pro-monopoly capital “1996 class project” – and every deed or word against that was coming from the privileged few defending their privilege. The marching column was irresistible and Polokwane was its destiny. Or at least that was the narrative that seemed to win out.

With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that Zuma’s success was all about momentum – and its inevitability is a post hoc construction.

I remember a movie from my childhood where the hero escapes almost certain death (it was either Indiana Jones or one of the Bonds ) by running across about fifty metres of crocodile infested waters by … yes, you guessed it: stepping on the back of each starving crocodile but with such speed that he was on his way to the next one before they snapped at him or sunk.*

That is probably a better metaphor for Zuma’s perilous progress towards Polokwane than the one that has him steaming towards that conference as if it was his manifest destiny. The second post of this blog was called The Accidental President and in it I argued that Zuma’s presidency was a result of an unlikely set of circumstances and he was not a character that many could have previously imagined in the role.

On closer examination it becomes clear that Zuma, on several occasions, almost crashed and burned – and came close to going to prison. Ultimately it was only the forward momentum of his campaign that allowed him to escape the snapping crocodiles at his heals.

In fact, I would put it even more strongly: for Jacob Zuma the only way to avoid ignominy and prison was to win the presidency.

And that is where the comparison with Julius Malema becomes so compelling – especially in his weekend attempt to boost the Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime campaign into the mouths and minds of the genuinely marginalised and poverty-stricken in places like Diepsloot and Bantu Bonke.

Just as his disciplinary hearing comes to a head.

Just as his questionable personal finances start to be ‘put to the question’ by various authorities.

Just as he prepares to lead the marches on the Chamber of Mines and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

He told those audiences: “They [the whites] found us here. They did not bring any land nor did they bring any minerals.”

And: “”We are here for every one of you. We will not rest until you stop worrying about where your next meal will come from.”

Woven into every word and phrase is the argument that the incumbent leadership of the ANC has failed the poor. That Julius Malema’s fight against Jacob Zuma is actually a fight to have the needs of the poor and dispossessed met.

Can Julius Malema, engorged as he and his comrades apparently are from sucking the marrow from the bones of Limpopo’s  (amongst others) public purse skeletal public finances (some bad metaphors are impossible to fix – ed)  hope to pull off this audacious argument?

Clearly he can.

Clearly he is betting on himself to be sitting up in the cab of a triumphant train steaming into Mangaung; to have turned all obstacles aside and spun the narrative of the little guy standing up against the incumbents, standing up for the poor and dispossessed.

The parallels are not perfect. Julius Malema is not the apex of a push for the presidency of the ANC – he is too young, untested and controversial to aspire to those lofty heights this time around. He is rather part of the campaign of other powerful contenders – although he hopes to be nested near the centre of a new ruling configuration of the ANC.

Finally, Zuma had the backing of the SACP, Cosatu and a host of ANC democrats exhausted by Mbeki’s stale centralism – as well as a swathe of aspirant BEE wannabes who felt excluded from the previous gravy train.

Julius Malema (and those who hope to benefit from his campaigning) have nothing like the mighty alliance of those disaffected by Mbeki’s presidency.

After yesterday’s radical cabinet reshuffle and Zuma’s apparent ability to reinvent himself as an anti-corruption and responsive president I would have to bet on the incumbents and against the invaders at the castle gate.

This is the week, however, when Malema’s gamble will either pay off or fail.  On Wednesday his disciplinary hearing resumes. On Thursday and Friday the marches on the JSE and the Chamber of Mines will take place.

This is not an accident of timing.

This is about planning, planning by individuals and groups with large appetites for risk – especially when the prize is so rich and the price of failure so high.

*I have a terrible feeling that someone has used that metaphor for Zuma’s march to Polokwane before … so let me apologise in advance if I stole it … and while on the textual commentary – I found this in Wikipedia while trying to check if the image had, in fact, been used for Polokwane before:

“Ross Kanaga as James Bond used four crocodiles as stepping stones to reach safety on the other side. Kananga, who owned the crocodile farm seen in the film, and after whom the main villain is named, did the stunt five times wearing the same crocodile skin shoes as his character had chosen to wear. During the fourth attempt, the last crocodile bit through the shoe and into his foot.The fifth attempt is one seen on film, with the tied-down crocodiles snapping at his feet as he passed over them.”

Tokyo comes out to defend Julius Malema in the disciplinary hearing?

To be followed by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Tony Yengeni?

It is an almost too perfect reversal of Julius Malema’s own metaphor after his victory at the Eastern Cape provincial conference of the ANC Youth League in August 2010:

“We will never surrender to Blade. He has never been a member and has no understanding of …  the youth league … Their people have been receiving serious lashings in the youth league conferences. As we said before, we will beat the dog (SACP) until the owner (Nzimande) comes out” … (a copy of The Herald editorial I took that from here.)

The boot, at the moment, seems to be on the other foot (or ” the stick is in the other hand” might have been better – ed.)

The “dog” that is now being beaten at the disciplinary hearing is Julius Malema himself and the owners that are revealing themselves are Tokyo Sexwale, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Tony Yengeni and friends.

And who is doing the beating? Why, the South African Communist Party and Blade Nzimande (as well as Jacob Zuma, Gwede Mantashe and many – but by no means all – in the incumbent leadership of the ANC).

Last weekend, almost while the disciplinary hearing was sitting, SACP Secretary General Blade Nzimande said to  the SACP provincial congress in Esikhawini, near Richard’s Bay, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, that young people should be discouraged from participating in the ANC Youth League’s Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime marches and protests on the 27th and 28th of this month:

“Do not allow yourselves to be used by people with agendas that are not in your interest … We are not going to be supporting any march whose intention is malicious and to undermine the authority of the ANC and the government.”

Breaking ideological stereotypes and confusing the foreigners

Spare a thought for those of us whose job it is to explain to foreign investors why the communists are leading the fight against a youth movement calling for the nationalisation of mines, the expropriation of land without compensation and “Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime!”

I could, of course, have just sent them a few extracts from Fiona Forde’s An Inconvenient Youth – Julius Malema and the ‘New’ ANC (Picador Africa 2011).

Here she is, sitting outside a hotel in Caracas Venezuela chatting with a sulking Julius Malema on his way back to South Africa (from a conference of the World Federation of Democratic Youth taking place in downtown Caracas in April 2010)  to face his previous disciplinary hearing. She has been getting a lesson from Julius on the importance of matching the leather of his watch strap with his belt and his shoes.

Venezuela has never seen so many designer labels as it has these past 48 hours since the arrival of the South African young ones. They descended on the city with their expensive suitcases and travel bags, top-of-the-range baseball caps, flashy T-shirts, snazzy shoes and sneakers, sleek manbags and a string of other expensive accessories hanging out of them – and a bodyguard in tow – all dressed up for a socialist youth conference.

I have been wondering how they must appear in the eyes of the other youth who have flown in from all over the world, and who are also staying at the Avila. The three-star hotel is swarming with casually-dressed, young delegates and among them, to my mind at least, the South Africans seem to stand out a mile.

When we understand that these delegates are the very same people who have formulated the “Economic Freedom In Our Lifetime” slogan, the implacable opposition of the South African Communist Party to the campaign becomes  obvious.

The campaign is a classic attempt by a parasitic elite to manipulate those who are really poor and dispossessed so that these disenfranchised citizens become the battering ram and the lever through which that elite can capture even more resources and assets than it has already – through tender abuse and diversion of state resources into their own pockets.

So the dog is being beaten.

But we would be unwise not to think deeply and carefully about the nature and intentions of the owners that rush out to defend their animal.

The Arch live on national television on Sunday night was full of his old and delightful twinkly theatricality.

“Watch out ANC government, watch out!”

My own view is he has every right to his anger and he expressed it with aplomb (and I am deliberately leaving aside placing the Dalai Lama anywhere on the continuum between “paragon of virtue” and “another narcissistic human-rights rock star” – because I think he is irrelevant to the question of the ANC’s moral failure in this case.)

Now Tutu didn’t actually say the ANC was either worse than, or equivalent to, the Nats, but I still wish he would keep in mind the problem of the inflation of metaphor.

He said that the ANC government’s failures of visa issuance are worse than those of the Nats – because at least with Apartheid’s masters you expected the worst.

Which is obviously still rubbish – even in this more limited form – to anyone who remembers how much focus was given the domestic and international movement of black people by the machinery of the Apartheid state.

But moral watchdogs are obliged to bark as loud at the gradual rise of tyranny as they do when that bloody moon reaches its apogee – which is why I am not going to quibble with the Arch; he is doing his job and all strength to him.

What I originally wanted to do was draw a graph using the 4 previous post-1994 South African visa applications (that I know of) for the Dalai Lama and plot them against the rise of China in Africa and the fall of principle within the ANC – but I think that has too many axes (including the grinding kind) and I couldn’t get it to work in Excel.

In 1996 Nelson Mandela invited the Dalai Lama and met him face to face; in 1999 Thabo Mbeki’s government gave him a visa as part of an international interfaith conference but refused to meet him; in 2009 Mbeki’s government refused him a visa altogether and today Zuma’s government has ignored the issue entirely.

You can plot those points yourself against this graphic that I have cobbled together:

The explanation for the changing stance of visa applications becomes fairly obvious when you track them along that curve.

And then, if you have the time or the inclination, feel free to suggest a speech bubble for the protagonists.

*If you are not South African that headline is going to be difficult to explain. “My china” is slang for “my good friend”. So “China’s my ANC” is a species of bad pun crossed with an unintelligible inside joke. (Note: It has been pointed out to me in the comments section below that “my china” meaning “my friend” comes from rhyming Cockney slang … China plate/mate … should get my brass tacks right.)

A good friend of mine in New York* recently put me on to “A Song of Ice and Fire” – a seemingly endless series of swords and sorcery novels by George R R Martin.

This is the crack cocaine of fantasy fiction but it is also a surprisingly brilliant study of politics and power vacuums.

The fictional edifice of the “Song of Ice and Fire” is built around the consequences of the death of a powerful king. In the aftermath the kingdom collapses into factional chaos, pretenders to the throne contest for power and war rages across the land.

Scheming power-brokers manipulate and assassinate their way through the dysfunctional court as provincial lords and petty “hedge nights” ransack, pillage and rape “the small folk” all across the Seven Kingdoms.

What an excellent metaphor.

The demise of Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane in December 2007 and the political cycle towards Mangaung in December 2012 is our own Song of Ice and Fire and the intrigue and viciousness in the ANC’s internal struggle feels like it is being run by the Lady of Casterly Rock, Cersei Lannister – but you will have to read the books to fully understand how apt and awful that comparison is.

Two weeks ago the increasingly excellent City Press published the following schematic of what it sees as the individuals in the main factions contesting for power at Mangaung (using Malema as the proxy for the broader conflict):

(see at the end of the story for my optional key to that graphic)

One of the problems with factional battles like this one is that it is not always possible for the participants to choose which side they are on – or, in fact, whether to be on any side at all.

As the powerful interests clash in the Ruling Alliance there can be no ‘innocent bystanders’ or anyone above the fray. A factional dispute like this one is a bit like the Cold War used to be. It imposes itself upon the whole structure; every forum, every election and every policy debate gets forced into the dominant paradigm  of the overall contest for power.

One of the dangers – with this analysis and with the more general struggle – is that it is increasingly difficult to work out what each side stands for and how they might differ from each other.

When we use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as the proxy for the broader struggle it is easy to portray the challengers as the most voracious faction, fighting for the right to loot the state and dominate patronage networks. The problem is that the incumbents, certainly Jacob Zuma himself, can hardly be portrayed as the good and brave king to Malema’s dastardly evil knight.

There are shades of grey here that we are going to need to have a more subtle sense of as we get closer to whatever compromises might emerge at Mangaung.

It’s best not to act as a cheerleader for any one faction or part of a faction in a struggle as complex as the one unfolding within the Ruling Alliance. And while today’s heroes can be tomorrows villains and vice versa I would still use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as a rough guide to who the most dangerous enemies of our democracy are. Malema himself is a bit player, just the most visible aspect of a fight that is much deeper and more involved than his personal future. But he’s a useful proxy, nonetheless.

One of the pay-off line from A Song of Ice and Fire is a phrase that is the perfect warning to give the players in the ANC’s internal conflict:

‘In this Game of Thrones you win or you die.”

But George RR Martin has another device that he keeps repeating, threateningly, as the lords and knights struggle and murder each other for the throne.

“Winter is coming”, he keeps warning, constantly reminding the reader and his characters that there are much greater threats than the outcome of their brutal squabbles.

Winter is coming.

* That’s Tony Karon, editor at Time Online and expert on all things Middle East. He tells me he has also, several times, used metaphors from A Song of Ice and Fire, including: “Goldman-Sachs are like the Lannisters — no matter who’s on the throne, they’re always on the Small Council.”)

(My schematic key to the graphic – not required reading, and a little bit cobbled together: the friends are Mathews Phosa,  ANC treasurer general and  previous premier of Mpumalanga, one of the ANC’s top six, National Working Committee (NWC) member and a member of the 81 person National Executive Committee (NEC); Fikile Mbalula, previous ANC Youth League president, currently a head of campaigns in the ANC as well as minister of sport in government – highly effective in both positions he is being pushed by this faction to replace Gwede Mantashe as ANC secretary general – on the NWC and NEC;  Tony Yengeni, fraud convict and ex-ANC speaker of parliament (during which time he was caught defrauding parliament by accepting a discount on a luxury car during the tendering process for the arms deal while he was the member of a parliamentary committee reporting on the same deal), ex-member of the ANC underground, tortured by Apartheid police agents in the late 80’s. He is on the ANC National Executive Committee and on the National Working Committee; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela convicted fraudster, wicked step-mother of the nation, she who famously said “with our boxes of matches and necklaces we will free our country”, prime ANC populist who was married to Nelson Mandela and struggled bravely while he was imprisoned, but later accused of several human rights abuses …. and has taken every opportunity to identify herself with Julius Malema and his various calls for nationalisation and expropriation of “white owned” property. On the NEC and generally still influential and symbolically powerful as any member of the ruling party; Siphiwe Nyanda chief of staff of ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and later head of South African National Defence Force (in which capacity he was regularly accused of being a significant recipient of some of the billions paid in arms deal bribes) and lately minister of telecommunications from which he was fired by Jacob Zuma during an avalanche of accusations that he had illegally enriched himself by getting R55m tenders from Transnet for his security company (GNS or General Nyanda Security) – also eviscerated by the media for his extremely expensive habits and choice of vehicles as a minister – on ANC NEC and NWC; Tokyo Sexwale, has long been thought to be the power behind the Malema challenge, although little evidence had been presented to prove this – and he was recently reported as referring to Malema as “that loud mouthed young man” – he was a popular premier of Gauteng when the fell foul of Thabo Mbeki machinations in the late 90’s, he withdrew from politics and became a successful business man – now reported to be extremely wealthy (through the company he founded, Mvelaphanda Holdings) – he has returned to politics and threw his hat into the ring in the lead-up to Polokwane in 2007 indicating that he would be prepared to take the ANC presidency if he was so nominated and elected. Instead Jacob Zuma became president and ended up appointing Tokyo as Minister of Human Settlements – a difficult position in which he has appeared to perform adequately – his wealth makes his election to the ANC top spot a difficult road …. but his determination and deep pockets make him a serious challenger; Cassel Mathale, premier of Limpopo and the closest of close allies (business and politics) to Julius Malema – the Limpopo province is beset by very high levels of cronyism and tender abuse by senior ANC politicians …..; Nomvula Mokonyane – surprised to see her on the list, premier of Gauteng and former housing minister – she has conflicted with another very powerful player Paul Mashetile (ANC Chair in Gauteng) who I would have thought was closer to Malema that she – she is on the NEC (ex-officio, which means she wasn’t elected there);  Baleka Mbete, ANC Chairperson, NEC and NWC – powerful … conflicted with Zuma and Motlanthe over whether she could keep the Deputy President post she help under Kgalema Mothlathe’s caretaker presidency – which put her in conflict with the Zuma camp at the start of his government in 2008; Sindiso Magaqa Secretary General of ANC YL and powerful Malema henchman.

And foes: Jeremy Cronin; key ANC intellectual and deputy secretary general of South African Communist Party (SACP) – as well as effective deputy minister of Transport – he has been the main intellectual opposition to Malema taking him on around mine nationalisation (accusing him of dishonestly fronting BEE interests and being interested in plunder) and on his general populist politics which Cronin and the SACP characterise as racially chauvinistic and even “proto-Fascist” comparing Malema arc explicitly to Germany in the 1930’s on the ANC NEC; Gwede Mantashe powerful ANC secretary general who also holds the position of SACP Chairman – he is one of the main targets of the Malema fronted faction as a leading voice against cronyism in the ANC – the push from the right is to replace him with Fikile Mbalula who is probably the best organiser of the opposition – Mantashe is gruff and famously speaks his mind, a characteristic that has put him in conflict with the most voracious cronies – in the ANC and the trade union movement – NEC and NWC …; Malusi Gigaba – ex-President of the ANC Youth League, but now adequate minister of Public Enterprises (but not about to shoot the lights out) in Zuma’s cabinet – gradually assumed to role of being a key defender of Zuma and the incumbents against the Malema battering-ram on the NEC; Blade Nzimande – top Secretary General of SACP and (adequate minister of higher education) – came in for a lot of flack from Cosatu for not focussing on building the SACP as well as for his expensive choice of cars as  Minister,  NEC and NWC; Collins Chabane – key intellectual and minister in the presidency (monitoring and evaluation) – respected ally of Zuma, opposed mine nationalisation – ANC NEC and NWC; Angie Motshekga - minister of basic education (shaping up well) and ANC Women’s League president … denies she recently suggested that one of the solutions to current crisis was dissolution of the ANC Youth League – NEC and NWC; Mathole Motshekga – ANC Chief Whip in parliament (always a powerful position) and law lecturer at Unisa in his spare time. ANC NEC … maybe opposition to Malema thrust is a family affair?; David Mabuza; Mpumalanga premier and ANC chairperson recently accused by ANC Youth League of “interfering” in the Youth League politics i.e. backing Lebogang Maile to replace Malema and the recent ANCYL national conference … a challenge that fizzled – he is on the ANC NEC;  Lindiwe Zulu, senior foreign affairs official previous Ambassador to Brazil, close Zuma confidant and powerful behind the scenes player building his image abroad …. she ran into flak from the ANC YL for appearing to back the MDC in Zimbabwe against ZanuPF. She is also close link with Angola for Zuma. ANC NEC.)

I am an independent political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

A significant portion of my income is currently derived from BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities (Pty) Ltd.

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