Real reasons behind the march
Who survives and who emerges victorious in Mangaung’s ANC electoral conference in 2012 will be determined by what happens in the next few months.
The JSE and Union Buildings marches organised by ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema are the first test of strength. Malema has abandoned President Jacob Zuma as a result of a complex mix of factors, all to do with power wielded over tenders.
This has manifested itself in the tussle between Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, on the one hand, and the one between Zuma and both Housing Minister Tokyo Sexwale and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe on the other.
Malema is leading the charge against the Zuma faction, testing its resolve and forcing it to fight outside its terrain of strength - which is the party bureaucracy. Malema is pushing for a street battle.
Should the Malema marches pull more than 20 000 people, this would buy him enough political currency and space for manoeuvring towards Mangaung and would also be used as bargaining muscle in his disciplinary hearings. A bad showing could be political suicide.
But it must also be remembered that Malema is in a position to rent a crowd. This doesn’t mean he has consistent or organised support, as demonstrated by the poor showing at his disciplinary hearing. But it could indicate that he is able to attract unemployed young people who are bored and only too happy to be in Johannesburg and Pretoria on a free trip. Malema understands the growing anger of the black masses better than many.
He has moved into the vacuum that exists for a radical pro-black political voice or movement; he has fashioned himself as the warrior for the excluded and denigrated.
Increasingly, he has gone frontal in his attack on the government’s failures. His hypocrisy is so brazen you can’t but marvel at its nakedness. As recently as April this year, while canvassing votes for the ANC, he said: “No matter how unhappy you are, no matter how angry you are, you can’t act against the ANC, because the ANC has never made a mistake.”
Not only the poor have been bamboozled
It’s not only the poor who have been bamboozled by Malema; many well-meaning black radicals who have fundamental problems with the ANC’s 17-year rule have been seduced by his rhetoric. And many blacks are outraged by AfriForum’s arrogance and consistent attacks on Malema. All these factors explain to some extent the support Malema may enjoy in the black community.
The worst thing that can happen to the ANC is to expel Malema. That would not only rattle the disgruntled voices that up to now he has kept inside the ANC but he would also be able to mobilise and organise the victims of the ANC’s refusal to address the interests of the poor. Malema is better in than out.
What we see at the JSE and Union Buildings will be a spectacle showing power in action. It started with the glamorisation of politics, as we saw with Malema’s alliance with Kenny Kunene and the ANC reducing elections to kwaito sessions led by Chomee and her dancers. This is used to titillate the masses, to entertain them and, subliminally, as advertising does, to get them to buy a product they don’t need.
There is another aspect of the spectacle that has seen Malema rise to prominence as the main player in our contemporary politics. This crowds out any possible alternative to the ANC. Here, the ANC is both the problem and the solution; hence Malema can organise a march against his own political party.
This may come across as absurd—I mean, why can’t Malema simply place his issues on the agenda at alliance meetings? Why organise a march against comrades you eat and drink with every day at Luthuli House?
The winning slate in Polokwane was the anti-Mbeki one. The question is: What is the Mangaung slate going to be? Malema has drawn a line in the sand and said that only those who support nationalisation will be elected. Already the ANC in Limpopo has supported the call.
Cosatu initially hesitated and is now divided on the issue but essentially the anti-Zuma faction has supported the call, including the march. Again, we see the coming together of forces that would ordinarily be seen as inimical.
The nationalisation slate
What is clear here is that the nationalisation slate has more or less already abandoned Zuma. As was the case with Mbeki, it will be increasingly argued that he doesn’t pay attention to the poor and is soft on the need for economic emancipation. Malema has already suggested numerous times that they would prefer someone other than Zuma.
What is important about the alliance battles is that they crowd out real questioning about how the players collectively run the government. No one takes responsibility; what we get are new rounds of battles and promises. The contenders are now hard pressed to raise the tempo of their rhetoric. These promises of “radical” change will be forgotten as soon as the winners enter the Union Buildings.
Even the South African Communist Party will be embarking on some show of public action to prove it has the interests of the poor at heart. The ANC alliance has lost all interest in serving the people; it only uses them.
Malema has already shown that he is into eating first and only using the poor to further his project of self-enrichment. The genius of Malema is that he is not shy to make bold promises he has no desire to keep or intention to fulfill. He is bold in mobilising the poor, knowing very well that it’s all about getting them to support his battle in the ANC - and that afterwards it will be business as usual as the elites benefit and the poor suffer.
At the next elections the alliance will canvass for votes as one united front. Predictably, nothing of significance will happen to alter the socioeconomic condition of the people, and then they will turn themselves into an internal opposition.
Disaffected workers, led by Cosatu, will again be asked to vote for the ANC alliance in the next election. The threats are meant to convince the voting public that in Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and Malema we have the real re-presentatives of the people. All that is required is to give them another chance.
Malema has been more forthcoming with his proposal that his promise of economic justice is dependent on voters giving the ANC another two-thirds majority. He is buying the ANC another 20 years in power.
These internal battles
What is often not understood is that, without these internal battles, the ANC alliance will simply die a natural death, having been exposed for what it really is. It is these internal battles between different factions and manufactured discourses about serving the people that keep it going. As long as these battles are contained as family feuds, the hegemony of the ANC is guaranteed and real alternatives are crowded out.
This is so because the ANC is at the centre of the politics of governance, corruption and opposition within itself. To succeed, Malema will need more than his new-found radical rhetoric and the opportunistic mobilisation of the poor in squatter camps that have been abandoned by his ANC.
Andile Mngxitama is the author of Is Malema a Mugabe? A Short Political Biography of Julius Malema. Copies from email@example.com