Monday, June 20, 2011

Juju Jive Goes into Overdrive

19 June, 2011

South Africa will wake up to a new week with the realisation that it has to endure another three years of Julius Malema at the centre of the political stage.

 A chill will run down many a spine and some will sink into depression as they think of the damage this young man has caused to society since assuming the presidency of the ANC Youth League in 2008. Others will cheer the triumph of someone who seems to speak their language.

Whichever way you look at it, it is time to buckle up and prepare for an extended and more riveting run of the Julius Malema show. The Malema who has emerged from this conference is a much more powerful man. Not only is his grip on the youth league machine much tighter, his ability to wield power in the ANC and broader society is now considerably enhanced.

To understand the phenomenon of Malema's power and why it is likely to be with us for some time, it is necessary to detour into his past.

It is worth remembering that this was the Congress of South African Students lad who in the late '90s and early 2000s (long after "liberation before education" was passé) sacrificed school for student activism. 

This was the guy who, in 2000, led students down the streets of Johannesburg, trashing the city and looting hawkers' wares; 

the character who was banned by the Gauteng Education Department from coming within 500m of the province's schools (at the time the Limpopo-based boy spent much of his time at Cosas headquarters).

With this rabble-rousing pedigree he propelled himself up the ranks of the youth league to become Limpopo provincial secretary.

His power reached into the heights and bowels of government. Cleaners and chief directors quivered equally at the mention of the name Julius.

He made sure senior provincial leaders danced to the youth league's ditty, and those who did not knew they were courting pain. Former premier Sello Moloto still carries scars from encounters with the enfant terrible.

So when it was time for Fikile Mbalula to step down from the league presidency in mid-2008 , it was inevitable that the post-Polokwane wave of populism and appeal to the lowest common denominator would also carry Malema.

The thinking among those who had engineered Jacob Zuma's triumph in Polokwane was that, with the corruption charges still hanging over him, their man was not yet safe. Mbeki was still in the Union Buildings, some in the new ANC leadership were already harbouring big ambitions and the pesky unions could not be trusted.

The best way to protect Zuma, they surmised, was through a powerful youth league that would be loyal to his cause. Malema was the best man to lead this defence.

Once at the helm of the league he has used a mixture of witty populism and an Mbekiesque understanding of power to great effect. He wows crowds with choice words. He picks subjects that get hearts beating fast, but have as much in common with reality as Swaziland sending a navy flotilla to tackle the Somali pirates. Because he is such a meticulous orator and because of the power and influence he wields, his fantasies carry weight.

He has been able to determine the tune, tone and pitch of the national conversation. Even this lowly newspaperman, who would rather have delved into the hugely important National Planning Commission's Diagnostic Report, finds his attention diverted.

The other tool Malema uses effectively is brute political force. In his consolidation of power since 2008, Malema has borrowed cleverly from the Mbeki manual on how to deal with perceived challengers and dissenting voices. Youth league structures are strewn with such political corpses.

Senior ANC leaders know Malema's adeptness at the power game. They also know that they gave him the space to accumulate and wield this power.

So what does an emboldened Malema mean for South Africa?

For starters it will give him formidable say in two important events in 2012: the ANC's mid-year policy conference and the elective conference in December.
Expect President Zuma's paranoid furtive glances over his shoulder to increase.
Expect the queue outside Malema's office in Luthuli House to be very long as grown men and women fawn over him.

Expect more demagoguery on nationalisation, large-scale land expropriation and other outlandish ideas.

Before we depress ourselves too much, let us remember every nation has its demagogues. The Americans have their Limbaughs, the French have their Le Pens and the Brits have their Griffins.

The difference is that they were all contained on the periphery of power. Our demagogue is at the centre of power with the possibility of acquiring even more power in future.

The only thing that can stop him is his party bowing to society's disapproval.

No comments:

Post a Comment