Julius Malema on Friday took a savage and unprecedentedly direct swipe at the man he considers his nemesis, ANC President Jacob Zuma.
“It is under President Zuma that we have seen the youth of the ANC being traumatised, the youth of the ANC being expelled from their own home,” Malema told a crowd of more than a thousand supporters at the University of the Witwatersrand, to roars of approval.
“It is under President Zuma that we have seen a critical voice of the voiceless being suppressed — We have seen under President Zuma democracy being replaced with dictatorship. We have seen an intolerance, people becoming impatient with the youth. We have seen under President Zuma people who do not appreciate new opinions. They actually suppress new ideas and new ideas, I don’t know, maybe they serve as a threat to the current leadership of the ANC.”
Malema said he was not talking about succession within the ANC, but about the evaluation of leaders and their leadership. But he managed to accuse Zuma, less directly, of a wide array of things, including: surrounding himself with yes-men, considering himself above criticism, failing to have the necessary patience, failing to provide leadership, and bringing the concept of thought crime to the ANC.
“You must never allow a situation where somebody takes away your right to think,” he told the meeting, which was nominally about the financial exclusion of students at Wits, though that was not discussed. “Let’s say the youth league is wrong. You cannot punish them for thinking. You must punish them for acting. We are saying we are going to Botswana with a command team, that is what they are thinking. They have not done that.”
Malema cited a long list of figures the youth league had criticised without consequence, saying it was considered “radical” when doing so, but suddenly became “ill-disciplined” when the criticism was of Zuma.
But despite the vitriol directed at Zuma, it was other issues that showed a new, polished and theatrical side of Malema as an orator. He brought out a young white protégé he said he was mentoring in radical politics as proof that he had nothing against white people — while still demanding that white people hand over stolen land without compensation. He spoke with force, but also with carefully nuanced tone and pace, about the suffering of the poor. That stands in contrast to his usual appearances in which he suffered from either very poor delivery of written speeches, rousing delivery, or poor content when speaking off-the-cuff.
In response, ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa tread very carefully around the accusations Malema made against the party, but did not avoid them altogether. He invited the audience to participate in the ANC’s policy-making process, making it clear that new ideas would not be shunned (on a party level), and that no single leader could shut out inconvenient youths.
“The branches of the ANC will lead us in the process towards the [ANC’s June] policy conference and also in the process towards national conference [in December],” Phosa told a muted crowd. “The source of authority in the ANC is the branch, and it is those branches of the ANC that will decide policy. It is those branches of the ANC that will decide on the new leadership, and nobody else.”
Some of Phosa’s statements, however, seemed to bolster Malema’s argument, even if it was framed in the abstract. “We must not be afraid of ideas that don’t sound similar to ours,” Phosa said in closing. “We must not be threatened by different ideas. Ideas are the spears of tomorrow. We must not blunt those spears.”
Malema could face a final ANC decision on his expulsion within weeks, but said that he intended to turn to the courts to challenge the disciplinary process he was subjected to.