What Malema apology is aiming to achieve
TROUBLED ANC Youth League leaders Julius Malema and Sindiso Magaqa have suddenly discovered humility.
They've both apologised to the ANC for their ill-discipline.
Is it genuine? Why apologise now when they've kept up the bravado for so long?
The apology is more strategic than genuine. The bravado was emotively gratifying, but self-defeating. Contests are won by participants. The youth league leaders can win the leadership contest at Mangaung, only if they remain within the field.
That field is the ANC and entry is gained through membership. The apology might gain Malema a reversal of the expulsion, keeping him as president of the youth league while ensuring that Magaqa secures his post as general secretary.
The youth league wants to win the leadership contest and that means having more bodies in the fight.
Magaqa will not only continue the fight for a leadership change, but will unleash the groundswell for Malema's reinstatement. That will happen at the ANC policy conference in June.
But for that to happen, Malema's issue not only has to remain alive but must attract popular sympathy.
That's what Malema's apology aims to achieve. It enables sympathisers to come to his defence.
Supporting an insolent Malema created the impression that one approved of impertinence. That's harmful to one's reputation. Now his supporters can even insist on his complete pardon.
They don't even have to put up a complex and elaborate argument. They simply have to point at their leader Jacob Zuma, who committed numerous transgressions, for which he repeatedly apologised and was repeatedly forgiven.
At no time was a sanction ever imposed upon him.
One can, of course, argue that Malema defied a 2010 National General Council (NGC) resolution to instil discipline in the ranks and did so even after he had been handed a two-year suspended sentence for ill-discipline.
But the idea is simply to create a perception of unfairness. That unfairness then becomes a grievance. The grievance, in turn, evolves into a cause. Then you have mass movement.
This will be a re-run of Zuma's comeback at the 2005 NGC against Thabo Mbeki's wishes.
Magaqa's brief is to keep the issue alive in ANC structures, build momentum towards the policy conference and then raise the matter from the floor of the conference.
It will not be raised as a Malema issue per se.
Rather it will be couched as a policy issue that pertains to the historic relationship between the ANC and its youth league.
Malema's supporters are likely to contend that the matter is too fundamental to the ANC to be settled by a mere committee, but must be settled by the ANC membership.
One shouldn't underestimate the appetite of the youth league members, both current and former, for this fight.
Malema may be the spark, but the fight has to do with the integrity of the youth league. This explains the unanimous support around Malema.
Malema's colleagues are not without ambition.
One can't imagine Lebo Maile privately shedding tears over Malema's tribulations. Maile wanted the top position. Yet, he has rallied around his president. So have the rest of the executive and the various provincial leaderships.
Theirs is a defence of organisational identity. The youth league may be an extension of its mother body but it has a distinct identity. Militant defiance is the organisation's raison d'être and has remained the leitmotif throughout its life.
A defiant spirit feeds life into youth activism. That's what brought on the 1976 uprising, when parents were terrorised into silence.
The youth carried the fight to the apartheid security forces throughout the 1980s, completely unintimidated by the state of emergency, torture and killing of their comrades.
This is the memory that constitutes the meaning of youth activism, which they perceive to be under attack by the disciplinary measures.
Their instinct is defiance and that comes easily to young people. They become even more determined to "show you".
Malema is homing on that defiant youthful instinct. And, now it is coupled with bitterness, arising from a feeling of being neglected.
Don't be fooled by the apology. It's a strategic retreat to stay alive to fight another day.
- Ndletyana is head of the political economy faculty at Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection
* If you would like to comment on this column, you can email your considered views to email@example.com