Malema tests ANC leaders’ patience

JULIUS Malema would do well to bear in mind the fate of the last two men who came before the African National Congress’s (ANC) disciplinary committee as he faces certain censure for defying President Jacob Zuma and bringing the party into disrepute.

Disgraced former ANC chief whip, Mbulelo Goniwe, was banished to the political wilderness after the party expelled him in 2006 after allegations of sexual harassment by a female employee.

A decade earlier, Bantu Holomisa was expelled by a unanimous decision of the national executive committee.

Although Holomisa had been an ANC member for only a very brief period — he joined in 1994 — he quickly gained acclaim and was one of the more popular leaders at the party’s national conference that December.

Yesterday’s climb-down by the ANC Youth League was the first sign of restraint by Malema, who until Sunday remained defiant, saying there were no “permanent friends” in politics and intimating Zuma was worse than former president Thabo Mbeki .

The league said it had never sought to undermine Zuma and that it would always seek his counsel on issues of principle.

“He (Malema) is running out of options, there is nowhere to hide,” one ANC leader said yesterday in response to the league’s stand down.

Insiders also say that the league’s apparent toning down might be a case of “too little too late”. This was another indication that central people in the party had run out of patience with Malema.

“Even those who see themselves as close to him, who provide him with counsel, are embarrassed and angry with his treatment of the president,” a party official said.

After a week of belligerence which started with his endorsement of Zanu (PF) while in Harare and culminated in Malema expelling a BBC journalist from a media briefing on Thursday, Malema was publicly rebuked by Zuma.

The condemnation was the first by Zuma, who has consistently indulged Malema’s insolent behaviour.

While the ANC is notorious for moving slowly when reprimanding one of its own, the party machinery gets decisive once it realises the risks of inaction.

The recall of former president Thabo Mbeki best illustrates the way in which the party works.

“If one becomes a permanent source of division in the ANC, as is the case with Julius, the ANC takes very strong exception to such individuals,” another insider said.

Senior political analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies Aubrey Matshiqi said Malema’s comments after Zuma rebuked him publicly amount to a veiled threat aimed at the president.

Business Day understands that there is growing consensus among the different factions in the ruling party that Malema has become too much of a political liability for the entire party.

Even those who found Malema to be a “useful idiot” when they needed him in their battle against the party’s leftist allies, are now keen to distance themselves from him.

It is understood that probusiness leaders such as Tokyo Sexwale — apparently a youth league funder — and ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa are among those who are said to have grown weary of Malema’s constant rabble-rousing.

Senior provincial leaders, including premiers who wield influence, are also understood to have lost patience with Malema.

A source said that while there were several members on the executive committee who stayed out of the fray on contentious matters, if there was a showdown between Zuma and Malema at that forum, Malema was likely to lose.

Malema’s transgressions include defying the party’s leadership and bringing it into disrepute. The charges will not be too difficult to prove as his utterances were mostly public.

When Zuma railed at Malema, he said the party had decided to “draw a line” at its last executive committee meeting. It had resolved that there would be “consequences” for anyone who “crossed” it.

Zuma was likely to invoke that decision in disciplining Malema.

Matshiqi said the ANC’s capacity to act against Malema was always going to depend on its calculation as to whether the damage caused by him extends significantly beyond the party.

Zuma’s statement last Saturday suggested the party had made its calculations.

Malema — often touted by the media as one of the most powerful figures in the ANC — was also booed by youth league delegates in Limpopo, which is his home province and where he yields much influence. He had to rely on the police to rid a youth league conference of his detractors.

This signals his vulnerability within the youth league while its parent body moves to censure him.







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