'The rise and fall of Malema'

THE once-powerful president of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, walked a very slippery political tightrope until he was expelled from the ANC. How did it all happen?

It is important that we analyse the factors that contributed to "the rise and fall" of Malema.

His election as youth league president in 2008 marked the rise of the "Malema factor" in the country's political discourse.

It epitomised the apex of his political career.

Soon after his election Juju publicly lambasted and ordered the National Prosecuting Authority to drop fraud and corruption charges against ANC president Jacob Zuma.

With unrivalled militancy he declared that "we are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma".

He dramatically turned the youth league into a radical youth political organisation.

News of his enormous power and influence travelled fast beyond the borders of the country. Foreign media powerhouses such as BBC, CNN, Sky News and Al-Jazeera suddenly developed an instant fascination with the "Malema factor". It was an incredulous moment because he was only 27 years old.

He skillfully employed a combination of militant oration, coercive persuasion and populism to outsmart and outmanoeuvre his opponents and adversaries.

He placed the youth league at the helm of a mass-based campaign aimed at paving and clearing the way for Zuma to become state president - at all costs.

In September 2008 Malema publicly stated that "the cause of problems in this country is (then state president) Thabo Mbeki".

He was the first ANC politician to publicly declare that Mbeki would be removed as state president. And by the end of September 2008, Mbeki had been recalled from the Union Buildings by the ANC's national executive committee.

ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe was strategically appointed "caretaker" president of the country.

Interestingly, Malema never failed to remind Motlanthe that he was just there (as caretaker president) to keep the presidential seat warm for Zuma.

To the jubilation of Msholozi's supporters and allies, the NPA announced in April 2009, just before the general elections, that it had dropped all corruption charges against Zuma.

It was a great political and moral victory for Zuma because those corruption charges were an albatross around his neck.

As expected, the ANC won the 2009 general elections with a landslide victory and Zuma was elected and inaugurated as president. These political developments emboldened Juju's political power within the ANC.

As kingmaker Juju believed it was his penultimate duty "to provide political direction" to the new Zuma administration.

The firebrand youth leader began to issue directives and ultimatums to cabinet ministers and premiers.

The prevailing general impression was that the ANC was virtually afraid of Malema and his ultra-militant youth league. As president of the league he sat on the ANC's decision-making bodies. He was convinced he was invincible.

His "tough talk" and unflinching militancy made him the most feared politician in the country. He picked up radical themes which had a potential to destabilise the country.

His ultra-nationalist rhetoric injected fear among whites.

Almost all leaders of opposition parties tasted the wrath of Malema's vitriolic tongue.

In the midst of that ideological warfare in the alliance towards the end of 2009, Malema defended the ANC's policies and attacked leaders of the SACP and Cosatu.

He charged that Blade Nzimande and his fellow "yellow communists" did not understand the ANC because they spent too much time drinking red wine.

Since his rise to political prominence, Malema projected himself as the champion of the poor and the unemployed. He pleaded poverty on many occasions.

Reports later surfaced that Juju was a mega-rich businessman who owned multi-million rand properties in Johannesburg and Polokwane and companies that benefitted handsomely from Limpopo government tenders and contracts.

Pressure from within and outside the ruling party began to mount on Zuma to rein in and discipline Malema.

In 2010, Malema hurled vitriolic insults at BBC journalist during a press conference in Luthuli House. As if that was not enough, he later compared Zuma unfavourably to Mbeki.

Because of that, the ANC national disciplinary committee stepped in and charged Malema for sowing divisions and causing disunity in the party.

A plea bargain was struck, and Malema was slapped with a two-year suspended sentence.

This was on condition that he should not violate the ANC Constitution within two years.

That epic moment signalled the beginning of tensions between Malema and Zuma.

The youth league suddenly resolved that Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe should be replaced at the party's national elective conference later this year.

The "Young Lions" declared "war" on Zuma's government policies and his leadership style. They adopted "nationalisation of mines" as policy and called on government to expropriate land (from whites) without compensation.

In a pointed attack on Zuma, Juju opined that a country's president must be "respected by all sections of society and must have academic qualifications."

It is an open secret that Zuma does not possess such. He heaped praises on Mbeki's intellect, describing him as the best president "ever produced" by the ANC.

At the league's elective conference in Midrand last year, Juju was re-elected unopposed as president. The calls for ANC leadership changes by the league were made in defiance of the ANC's instruction to bar its members from partaking in "succession debate".

Last year he announced that they would support moves to topple President Ian Khama's government in Botswana.

The ANC reacted with fury over the league's "reckless, thoughtless and childish statement".

On November 10 2011, the NDC slapped Malema and league's colleagues with suspensions from the party. The league criticised the verdict and alleged that it was predetermined by some ANC leaders who are "notoriously opposed to the league's militant policies."

As anticipated, all implicated league leaders resolved to appeal the NDC verdict to the party's national disciplinary committee of appeal (NDCA).

The NDCA recently upheld the guilty verdict imposed on Malema, league spokesman Floyd Shivambu and secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa.

The case of barging into the meeting of the national officials of the ANC was dismissed.

The NDCA agreed with the appellants that they deserve an opportunity to present mitigating factors before sentencing.

On Wednesday night Malema was expelled from the ANC.

His expulsion implies that his illustrious political career is now gone, dead and buried.

Zuma is likely to be re-elected ANC president in December.

But Zuma and his allies should be reminded of the essence of the "law of karma" (what goes around, comes around).

  • Masoga is a political researcher and analyst at the Institute for Dialogue and Policy Analysis