It was a long-awaited moment at the ANC Youth League conference. Three hours long to be precise. Some said ANC President Jacob Zuma was ready before Julius Malema was, and was made to wait for the 30-year-old Malema to arrive before the two could walk in, side by side, and sway together on stage to the stilted rhythms of Umshini wam before the adoring gaze of the approximately 5 500 league delegates.
Afterwards, Malema drove home the idea of a flawless unity between the two — the mother body and its often errant youth wing — in an impassioned ten-minute departure from his speech. He addressed Zuma personally and provocatively, insisting on the league’s support for him, and vilifying the media for creating an imagined rift between the two.
“They don’t know that sitting here, these are your protectors, these are the people who delivered in Polokwane. These are the people who delivered you to the union buildings. And these people will forever protect you as long as you are still a leader of the ANC,” he said earnestly.
But while their theatrics may have emphasised solidarity, the contents of their speeches immediately belied it.
Zuma took to the podium after Malema spent 90 minutes expounding on changing the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation, defending Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, explaining why whites are racists and, of course, calling for the nationalisation of South Africa’s mines.
It was a tough act to follow. Malema had held the attention of his audience effortlessly, even when reading out boring details from a prepared document. Zuma spent a good part of his speech (which paled in comparison to Malema’s natural intensity) listing the things the league should be driving: HIV/Aids awareness; education; employment opportunities; and preventing substance abuse.
Then he got onto the things they were furiously driving instead, and what he thought about it.
Let’s just say the differences were … stark.
- Land expropriation
Malema was crystal clear on this front: Land redistribution was barely moving. After 100 years of democracy, he said, only 25% of land will have been redistributed, leading to a situation of institutionalised racism. His solution? “For us to expropriate without compensation, we should change the Constitution — so a greater majority is necessary. We have the capacity to reach more than 75%, like Frelimo in Mozambique and the MPLA in Angola.”
Zuma, on the other hand, emphasised that economic transformation meant inclusive growth “that will protect the rights of the workers in line with the Constitution”. He kept to the party’s line on the nationalisation of mines, which is to keep referring to the research team who will report their findings at the ANC’s next policy conference in a few years. And then he skirted the issue of land expropriation, explaining instead one of the three land reform options being considered by government which would involve the leasing of state land.
- The league’s take on the ANC
While Malema made several barbed comments about the ANC’s choices and failures, Zuma asserted himself, saying that the growth of the ANC Youth League should not be at the expense of its mother body.
‘Our mobilisation tools should not change the character of the African National Congress,” Zuma said.
And then there was the kicker: The ANC was the liberator of the people, Zuma said. Read: Not the upstart young ‘uns trying to cause a ruckus.
‘The ANC delivered the political freedom to our people and it is only the ANC which will deliver the economic freedom,” he said.
- The alliance
It was the usual bashing of the left from Malema, whose unbridled disdain for the ANC’s alliance partners flies in the face of the ruling party’s attempts to present a unified front. In his speech, Malema went beyond the usual censure of Cosatu and the SACP, rendering them irrelevant and positioning the league as the only hope of the left.
“In the absence of a vanguard of the working class politically, ideologically and organisationally, the ANC Youth League should assume the role of the vanguard of the working class,” said Malema, going on to characterise the league as the friend of the poor and the downtrodden — the real hero of the working class.
And, as if anticipating the obvious criticism of the league’s significant business interests, its leaders opulently bling lifestyles, and accusations of tender rigging aimed at Malema himself, he immediately slammed the theory that the league was driving the nationalisation of mines as an exercise in making money. “In our call for the nationalisation of mines, those who call themselves ‘vanguards of the working class’ developed a conspiracy theory that we are simply saying nationalisation of mines because we are bought by black business people, and now that we have raised the bar to speak about expropriation without compensation, the so-called vanguard of the working class say we are reckless. A question we should ask is: What is reckless about calling for changing property relations to favour the working class and the poor?”
But his attacks on the alliance members didn’t seem to go down well with Zuma who said: “Unity is the glue that keeps together the alliance of Cosatu and the SACP and the larger democratic movement. We will differ at times over tactics but we share the same overall goal.”
This was the big one. Malema spent a chunk of his speech taking issue with the government, and hence the ANC’s, stance on Nato’s intervention in Libya. Malema did a good job of characterising Gaddafi as an innocent victim of the “blood and oil thirsty imperialist scavengers”. He went on to slam Zuma’s leadership indirectly, saying: “The inability of our government to detect the imperialist intentions of the US and the EU in Libya is not forgiveable, because it has diminished the respect the ANC enjoys amongst the progressive forces of the world.”
While Zuma was his usual diplomatic self on other points where he disagreed, he was quite vehement on this matter: In what appeared to be a departure from his speech he outlined the history of events in Libya, from the democratic uprisings in the Arab world and how that had led to peaceful protests, to how these peaceful protests had led to an unelected leader killing his own people.
“Now many may not know,” he began his brief history — in a clear reference to an earlier point: The lack of political education and knowledge in the league.
In his clearest censure of Gaddafi to date, Zuma noted that “there was a military coup in Libya that was termed by its leader as a revolution” and there was no parliament or cabinet in the country.
And then he cut to the heart of Malema’s criticism: the accusation that the ANC was equivocating in its attitude towards Libya, and interfering with a sovereign state. “We did not do something outside of the policies that the ANC stands for. We believe in human rights and we will not allow an African country to kill its people, even if it belongs to this continent,” he said and added, in his sternest moment in the speech: “I thought I would explain this as it concerns you and I did hear your statements, but unfortunately you did not come and ask because we could have explained.”
But bravery will do Zuma little good at this point. The real question remains: With the ANC blatantly throwing its weight behind Malema’s contender, Lebogang Maile, how did the latter do so badly in an election that is guaranteed to go in Malema’s favour? The league may be the kingmakers of the mother body, but it has become clear that this power does not work both ways.
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