The ANC’s decision to charge youth league president Julius Malema has sharpened the battle for ANC leadership in 2012, with the league accusing secretary general Gwede Mantashe of driving the charges in a proxy war with his potential challenger, Fikile Mbalula.
Top officials of the party, including President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, met the league’s leadership on Monday to discuss Malema’s inflammatory public statements.
But there are vastly different versions of the outcome of the meeting. While the ANC Youth League believes that it made a strong case for the charges to be dropped, other leaders, particularly of Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP), are pushing for the ANC to discipline Malema.
ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Derek Hanekom has reportedly confirmed that a disciplinary hearing will take place on May 3.
But the party’s deputy secretary general, Thandi Modise, told a media briefing that the party was satisfied with Malema’s explanation and that charges had not yet been formulated.
This week Malema’s supporters accused Mantashe of being behind the charges against the youth leader, saying they are an attempt to weaken the Malema-led 2012 campaign against Mantashe.
The ANCYL has made it clear that it wants Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula to replace Mantashe as ANC secretary general in 2012. But Mantashe’s backers have vowed to fight for him to retain the position.
An ANCYL leader claimed that some ANC officials, including Zuma, were not briefed about the charges until the Monday meeting between the ANC and its youth wing.
Another ANCYL NEC member said Mantashe had been actively seeking a weapon to use against Malema in an attempt to “get rid of him”.
The leader said the youth league believed that after presenting its argument at Monday’s meeting, which was accepted, the charges had no standing in the party.
Malema’s supporters in the ANC told the Mail & Guardian this week that they expect the charges, drafted by Mantashe, to be dropped. Two ANCYL NEC members said the charges were being driven by the leadership ambitions of Malema’s opponents, particularly Mantashe.
A committee member close to Malema said: “Those charges were not going to hold up anyway. It was just an attempt to get the youth league to tone down.”
Ironically, this leader also attacked ANC NEC member Billy Masetlha who, with Malema, has led the charge against the leftists in the ANC alliance. He claimed that Masetlha was working with Mantashe to “demobilise” the campaign to elect Mbalula as the next secretary general in 2012.
“The intention is to get rid of Mbalula. Masetlha wants to be the next secretary general. He goes around telling people in the ANC that Mbalula cannot be SG.”
Masetlha and Mantashe were not available for comment.
Expectations were high that Zuma would follow his public reprimand of Malema two weeks ago with tough action, using ANC disciplinary measures. But factional interests have complicated the matter and it is unclear where Zuma stands on the charges.
A Luthuli House official close to Zuma conceded that the disciplining of Malema had become an albatross around the president’s neck. He was under immense pressure to intervene in official ANC processes to save the youth leader.
A senior ANC Gauteng leader said the Malema charges were “the real test for discipline” in the ANC and were “hugely significant” because the party was scheduled to hold its elective conference in two years’ time.
“Taking on the youth league has always been seen as a risk to one’s political career and sometimes even [a risk] of social isolation,” said the leader.
“In the past if you did not get the league’s support you knew you would not be elected to any position. And if you managed to get an office somewhere, you would have no political backing.”
Gauteng ANC provincial secretary David Makhura told the media this week that ANC members in branches were calling on the party to “instil discipline”.
Without naming Malema, Makhura said members felt that some people acted with “impunity” and that it was about time that the ANC took steps against them.
Not linked to the 2012 power struggle
Mantashe’s supporters were adamant this week that people should not play politics with the disciplinary moves against Malema.
Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini insisted that the disciplinary process was not linked to the 2012 power struggle. “Those who want to influence the disciplinary committee should respect the process. People should not label it — this amounts to intimidating those who are dealing with the matter and discrediting the process.”
Dlamini said that once the ANC had announced the disciplinary hearing and the top structures of the party agreed on it, “it is no longer a JZ matter. It was never a JZ matter.”
A senior SACP leader said it was mischievous of the ANCYL to accuse Mantashe of being behind the charges. “Gwede did not go all out and suggest that people should commit misconduct against the ANC. This is just a way of disempowering him so that he does not act against more people who do wrong things,” said the leader.
The SACP leader said it was wrongly assumed that people who supported Zuma in Polokwane were “automatically exonerated” from being reprimanded.