ANC blows siren of desperation by trying to woo Malema back

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela flanked by EFF leader Julius Malema and   President Cyril Ramaphosa   at her 80th birthday celebration. / Elmond Jiyane/ GCIS
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela flanked by EFF leader Julius Malema and President Cyril Ramaphosa at her 80th birthday celebration. / Elmond Jiyane/ GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his deputy David Mabuza's sudden attempt to woo EFF leader Julius Malema like lovelorn exes exposes that the ANC is unable to think of new ways to fire up its 2019 election campaign and reach out to new voters.

The language employed by Ramaphosa and Mabuza did not seem to be ordinary politicking - they were trying to appeal to Malema personally rather than politically.

"We would love to have Julius Malema back in the ANC. He is still ANC down, deep in his heart," said Ramaphosa.

Mabuza said he had a "special space" in his heart for Malema.

"We had times together. He knows. When he was in the ANC, I supported him to be the president of the Youth League and I remember comrade Julius saying, 'My blood is black, green and gold. I will never leave the ANC'."

Malema dismissed these overtures on Twitter.

"I won't do it, that thing is dead. Worse they now have two presidents, one for ANC of Natal called Zupta and Ramapostponer for the rest and now I must go and join the confusion, never."

There has been a tangible cooling of hostilities between the ANC and EFF since Jacob Zuma's departure and particularly over the ANC yielding to EFF on the land question.

The test of the relationship might be how events unfold in Nelson Mandela Bay when the EFF attempts to unseat the DA's Athol Trollip through a motion of no confidence. It has invited the ANC to put forward a candidate, which they will either veto or consent to.

While the ANC is in discussions about this proposal, it seems the party's leaders want to maximise on the current bout of co-operation to court Malema. The goal is obviously 2019, with the ANC worried about defending its majority.

The EFF staged high-impact election campaigns in the 2014 and 2016 elections without the benefit of the ANC's size, massive budgets and piggy-backing on government resources.

It did so on the power of Malema's rhetoric and the issues that resonated among people who were fed up with the ANC.

Other than purging Zuma and the promise of a clean up, it is not yet clear what the ANC will be offering voters.

Neither in its policy documents nor conference discussions has the ANC articulated new approaches to deal with low economic growth, joblessness and economic transformation.

Its broad vision is stuck in the past.

Ramaphosa remains the flavour of the month but the novelty is likely to subside as the thrill of his walkabouts sets in.

The EFF is not brimming with fresh ideas either - land expropriation without compensation is not a new concept - but it is good at firing up the national discourse and being relentless in its campaigns.

Perhaps it is the mix of the firebrand personalities and youthful leadership that gives the EFF an edge over the ANC.

Ramaphosa and Mabuza appear to want to appropriate the EFF's energy rather than try to create it in the ANC.

While the promise of the "new dawn" might draw back stalwarts and traditional ANC voters, it might still be a battle to hold the attention of younger and restless voters.

But the strategy - if there is even a strategy at all - to court Malema is strange.

Surely if there is a meeting of minds on major issues, talks should be pursued behind the scenes to see if there is in fact potential for collaboration.

Ramaphosa, a veteran political negotiator, should know better that a public courtship is unlikely to be successful, particularly with Malema likely being forced to respond publicly.

The timing is also curious.

The weekend's registration blitz is the first election activity of the new ANC leadership.

Why would the ANC's two most senior leaders deflect from the party's own strengths and focus on an opposition leader?

The only thing clear is that the sands are shifting and, as the past three months have shown, in politics all things are possible.