Top brass tackles ANC Youth League

The African National Congress national executive committee (NEC) has asked the party’s president, Jacob Zuma, to rein in ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, believing that he is overreaching himself by making policy statements in the party’s name.

And in a wide-ranging interview at the weekend, ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe also went on the offensive, branding Malema’s “kill for Zuma” statement reckless and rejecting the youth leader’s excuse that he had been misinterpreted.

He called on the league not to copy slavishly the youth activists of the 1976 generation.

Motlanthe has also defended the judiciary, which Malema has attacked.

In recent days, Malema has also publicly demanded that:

  • Finance Minister Trevor Manuel table a radically revised medium-term budget policy statement in October;
  • more than 70% of the current Cabinet be fired when a new president is installed in 2009; and
  • President Thabo Mbeki declare an early election.
Zuma, currently on leave, has promised to meet the league’s NEC as soon as he returns to discuss Malema’s conduct.After the “kill for Zuma” statement Zuma spoke to Malema, but his request for cool heads appears to have gone unheeded.

Motlanthe addressed the league’s NEC two weeks ago on the same issue, but apparently had a hostile reception.

“Malema does not have an original thought in his head,” said a senior ANC NEC member, adding that Malema was clearly being incited to make political interventions often “diametrically opposed” to ANC policy.

The suggestion was that he is a stalking horse for the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

The ANC has made it clear that it does not want an early election and has declared itself broadly in sync with existing government policy.

The ANC leadership is also concerned that some of Malema’s statements are unconstitutional.

“The ANC is committed to the Constitution,” said the NEC member, adding that the party favoured more temperate discussion about any problems in the judiciary. “He harms the country [and often] has no mandate to say what he does.”

It is understood that at the league’s NEC meeting two weeks ago, Motlanthe came under vitriolic attack. “At our meeting Julius told Kgalema that he was irresponsible in his public comments. The comments from his NEC colleagues were harsher than anything Julius has said. We made it clear that we were not happy with his public postures.”

A national executive member of the youth league said Motlanthe proposed future meetings with the league. “But you could see he thinks we don’t understand issues. We agreed to engage him again, but not to criticise him publicly.”

A member of the league’s NEC said they were worried that Motlanthe was deviating from the ANC decision to support Zuma and was protecting the judiciary.

“Everyone is shocked by his conduct, or rather misconduct. The ANC accepts that Zuma is undergoing a political trial; it’s inconsistent to say that and say we should not criticise the judiciary.

“He is deviating from ANC positions. We know other alliance leaders are strongly against what he is doing. They are saying he is going on a trajectory that will expose him to attack internally. He isn’t the voice of reason. He wants to be a hero of the liberal media,” the source said.

In his interview, Motlanthe did not mask his displeasure with ANC Youth League leaders.

“I said [Malema’s] statement was reckless and I said to the youth leaders that they cannot slavishly copy the 1976 generation,” he said. “The new freedom means they must define for themselves new challenges because the conditions are different from 1976 when apartheid was still in force.”

He said it was not enough for Malema to say he was misunderstood and that his comments were taken out of context. “The ANC has always been known to mean what it says. We each have to take responsibility for our statements.”

A senior NEC member said Motlanthe was articulating the party line on the judiciary and the Zuma trial.

“I haven’t heard Kgalema deviate from the Zuma position. He’s a principled man. The only problem we’ve had with him was when he refused to go to Cabinet. We had to debate and persuade him.

“Other people don’t have the balls he has. They patronise the youth league instead of being honest with them. Maybe some of the noise about Kgalema relates to the ANC’s 2012 congress [when he may contest the presidency].”

A provincial leader said those who thought Motlanthe would uncritically mobilise support for Zuma were mistaken.

“Mbeki didn’t like him because he’s principled. The ANC is safe under his leadership—the fact that he was elected to lead the deployment committee shows the trust people have in him. Deployment causes bitter conflict in the party.

“Many ANC people are afraid to stick their necks out, in case they get chopped off,” said the provincial leader.

Additional reporting by Ferial Haffajee

Life according to Malema

  • “You know these days you can’t even say people are sober like judges as some of them get drunk and bump into walls — so they have discredited the good image of the judiciary.”—Backing Young Communist League national secretary Buti Manamela’s view of the judiciary.

  • “We are prepared to die for Zuma. We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma.”—Speaking at a Youth Day rally in the Free State.

  • “You will see us in action. You will see what militance means. We are not going to tolerate any situation that undermines the president of the ANC.”—At a media briefing in Johannesburg, a week before Jacob Zuma’s Pietermaritzburg trial.

  • “We have concluded this issue is not a criminal case, it is a political case.”—In a media briefing in Johannesburg, before Zuma’s Pietermaritzburg trial.

  • “We are in this trouble because of Thabo Mbeki and his people. For that reason, Mbeki must leave now and Zuma must be president now.”—To Zuma supporters at the start of Zuma’s August 4 trial.

  • “An attack on Zuma is a direct attack on this revolution.”—During an interview with the Mail & Guardian, saying he stands by his statements to emphasise his love for Zuma.

  • “Mbeki is a coward.”—At the start of Zuma’s trial.

  • “The forces we defeated in 1994, the ultra-right wing, the imperialists and the colonisers. They have come together to undermine the ushering in of a democratic dispensation. They do this by projecting the ANC leadership as the most corrupt people, who are lazy, who are womanisers, who are drunkards, who want money that comes easily without hard work.”—In an interview with the M&G when asked about the forces to which he keeps referring.

  • “We are an organisation of militant and radical young people who always raise issues with passion. People confuse that passion with recklessness.”—In an M&G interview when he was asked if his “kill for Zuma” statement fuelled perceptions that the league is run by a bunch of hooligans.

 
Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

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