Malema digs himself further into a holeBy BENON HERBERT OLUKA in Johannesburg | Wednesday, April 4 2012 at 09:24
Barely a day after indicted African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader Julius Malema added a dramatic twist to his on-going battle with political ally-turned-foe, President Jacob Zuma, terming the South African President a 'dictator', the party’s leadership responded in the same currency.
In a statement sent to the media on Saturday, ANC Spokesman Jackson Mthembu cautioned that Mr Malema to refrain from insulting the party leadership, especially President Zuma, saying the youth leader was showing “intolerable levels of disrespect.”
More significantly for Mr Malema’s political career, Mr Mthembu added that continued insults would take the youth leader and his ANC counterparts past a point of no return.
“Attacks directed at the ANC leadership and the President (Zuma) in particular have been going on for some time and have reached intolerable levels of disrespect,” wrote Mr Mthembu, and then warned; “If this assault and insults on the ANC leadership by Malema continues, he will be unwittingly dragging himself to a precipice where a point of return is impossible in the eyes of ANC members.”
The ANC’s response was prompted by Mr Malema’s Friday speech at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he said that under President Zuma, the leadership of South Africa’s ruling party had become intolerant to a point where they even punish the youth “for thinking.”
“We have seen under President Zuma democracy being replaced with dictatorship. We have seen an intolerance; people becoming impatient with the youth," Mr Malema said to rapturous applause from the audience.
“We have seen under President Zuma people who do not appreciate new opinions. They actually suppress new ideas.”
With Mr Malema’s appeal against his February 28 expulsion from the ANC set to be heard in the not-too-distant future, the ANC’s statement could be an indicator that the party’s leadership is running out of patience with its enfant terrible and might decide to ditch him altogether.
The sentiments within the ANC Youth League corridors are that this is already happening. They say President Zuma already showed his disregard for the on-going disciplinary hearing process when he made what they describe as “pre-emptive utterances about the outcomes of the party’s National Disciplinary Committee of Appeal during mid-March speech at the New Age newspaper and SABC business breakfast meeting.
Mr Zuma said at the time that, “Once the process of disciplinary procedures has been concluded there will not be anything else to do thereafter - the youth league will have to move forward. The ANC Youth League will have to have a new president that will be able to move the organisation forward; I don’t think it’s a crisis.”
Responding to Mr Zuma’s comments, the ANC Youth League said in a March 16 statement that he was engineering a move to edge out Malema by opening a succession debate in the League a whole two years before its elective Congress, which is in 2014.
“ANC President Zuma’s utterances are not only shocking, but undermine the ANC disciplinary process, whose integrity and fairness is already under question,” said the statement.
“President Zuma’s proclamation that the ANCYL will have to have a new president is a premature expulsion of the ANCYL president even before the NDCA could listen to evidence on whether the sanction of the NDC is sound. As a President of the ANC and the country, President Zuma is unduly influencing the members of the NDCA to come to a conclusion which he has already announced publicly.”
Even if the ANC decides to expel Mr Malema, the controversial 31-year-old politician has already declared that he will fight against his expulsion to the death and is prepared “to die with my boots on.” On March 12, Mr Malema said during an interview on state broadcaster SABC that even if his expulsion is confirmed by the NDCA, he would make yet another appeal to the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and, if necessary, take the fight against his expulsion all the way to the ANC delegates’ conference scheduled for December.
Last week, Mr Malema raised the stakes even further. During the March 25 ANC Youth League centenary celebrations rally in the Limpopo Province, Mr Malema said he had decided that he would take the party to court if its leadership upholds the decision to expel him — an action he had previously vowed not to take. Mr Malema explained that his U-turn, which came about two weeks after he had made a rare public apology to the ANC leadership on SABC, was because he had been “pushed against the wall.”
Mr Malema’s decision to place all his cards on the table, especially lodging another appeal that postpones his expulsion until the ANC’s delegates’ conference, is significant because it is at the same conference that the next leaders of the ANC will be elected.
Since the turn of the year, and despite an ANC resolution banning campaigns for party positions till October, Mr Malema and the ANC Youth League have intensified calls for President Zuma to be replaced by South Africa’s Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. The Youth League is also fighting to have ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe ousted from his position and are backing Sports minister Fikile Mbalula as a replacement.
Although Mr Motlanthe has not formally declared his intention to contest against his current boss, media reports in South Africa claimed early this month that he has privately told close allies that he will contest for the position of party president if nominated by the party’s branches. In addition, Mr Motlanthe’s recent presence at the ANC Youth League centenary celebrations rally in the Limpopo Province, where League supporters reportedly wore T-shirts bearing his image and the words “Motlanthe for President,” has been interpreted as the clearest sign yet of his readiness to take on President Zuma.
Mr Motlanthe’s presence at the rally was downplayed by his Spokesman Thabo Masebe as a routine deployment by the party when the Youth League requested for an ANC leader to grace the event. However, it did not stop a faction allied to Mr Zuma from attacking the deputy president for attending the rally. In its statement, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), an affiliate of the ANC-leaning Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) said Mr Motlanthe’s presence at the rally amounted to an endorsement of a faction ahead of the party’s elective conference. The ANC Youth League has also been engaged in an open confrontation with the ANC branch in Mr Zuma’s hometown of KwaZulu Natal over the battle for elective positions up for grabs in December.
Analysts say Mr Malema and camp are hedging their bets on discrediting Mr Zuma ahead of the December conference so that he does not get a second term — a tactic Mr Zuma must know only too well since he used a similar one in a 2008 alliance with Mr Malema and others to prematurely oust President Thabo Mbeki from office.
The ANC Youth League has often spoken of Mr Zuma having brought the party into disrepute through the different scandals that he has been involved in. Early this month, they were handed another political stick with which to beat Mr Zuma when the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the decision to drop corruption cases brought against the president in 2009 can be reviewed.
Although Mr Zuma’s office said it does not mean he will be prosecuted, the move is likely to exhume some dirty linen that could damage his reputation — and ultimately see him return to face the Courts to defend himself. Analysts have said should the majority of the ANC members decide that they do not want to elect as president of the party and country a leader battling damaging corruption allegations, it could result in a loss for Mr Zuma in December.
Therefore, with either camp looking to have drawn battle lines, the intensified spats between the two leading factions in the ANC could signify the start of a bruising battle for political survival, not just for Mr Malema, but also for President Zuma.
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