The kingmakers within the ANC Youth League’s national executive committee (NEC) face a tough decision, one that will have lasting implications on the outcome of the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in December.
Do they cut the political umbilical cord joining their embattled president Julius Malema to the youth league he has led since 2008 and thus isolate and effectively exile him, or do they defy the mother body and rally behind him by rejecting the immediate, temporary suspension from the ANC and its youth league and allow him to attend meetings and gathering of the young lions?
But while the youth league finds itself between that rock and a political hard place, there are other important political matters at hand — the question of who to back in the the ANC’s leadership succession battle. While the youth league’s answer to that question had been considered final, recent developments suggest the matter is no longer as cut and dry as it was only a few weeks ago.
As far as Malema’s fate is concerned, there’s a strong view from those in the anti-Malema faction of the league that the youth wing must comply with the ANC’s decision to suspend him — leaving him out in the cold. Alone.
On Tuesday the youth league released a statement saying that it was not planning to institute action against the ANC. This came after Malema’s legal representatives in letters sent to the ANC’s national disciplinary committee (NDC) and the ANC threatened to take the party to court over the “banning order” imposed on Malema last week.
This suggests that the political winds are changing and that his standing in the league has dwindled to an all-time low. In fact, his comrades within the top ranks of the league are said to already be hard at work to devise a transition strategy for when Malema is officially removed from the party.
A meeting of the youth league’s NEC had been scheduled to take place on Monday, but was postponed.
It was to have been during this meeting that the anti-Malema faction would have fought against any bid to have the league get behind the attack by Malema on President Jacob Zuma that led to his summary suspension.
This faction, which appears to be enjoying growing momentum within the youth wing of the ANC, apparently wished to make it clear that Malema was not speaking for the league, and to cut him off.
However, NEC members received a text message on Sunday announcing the postponement of the meeting. No new date had been confirmed for the meeting to take place.
But for the youth league there is more at stake than just Malema’s immediate political fate, the embarrassment it will cause him if his comrades turn on him (not to mention the matter of who might take over if he is sidelined once and for all).
What must also be considered is the (now divided) league’s position going in to the ANC’s all-important Mangaung conference — where Malema had hoped to have a hand in replacing Zuma, as party president, with his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe.
Historically, the presidential candidate supported by the youth league has always emerged triumphant.
The youth league, under the leadership of former president and Malema ally, Fikile Mbalula, had during the run-up to the ANC’s watershed Polokwane conference been the kingmakers in the political standoff between Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki that saw the latter lose his crown to the former.
Their youth league’s strength was that it had been united behind a cause: to remove the sitting president.
Follow the leader
Now, days before Malema faces the ANC’s national disciplinary committee of appeals (NDCA) — where he hopes to have his expulsion from the party overturned — it seems that not only do some of his colleagues feel that the league should dump him, but that not all of them are united behind their (strictly unofficial, of course) call for a change of leadership in Mangaung. Those young lions aligned to Zuma have seen the prospect of Malema’s suspension as the perfect opportunity to end his influence once and for all.
If the NDCA finds against Malema, his sentence will take immediate effect. Even if the appeals committee does not uphold his expulsion, his previous suspension dating to 2010 will kick in. He will, however, be able to petition the ANC’s NEC to review the decision and failing that — and as a last resort — the matter can be raised from the floor at Mangaung in December.
So between the outcome of the NDCA hearing and Mangaung, the youth league may have to choose a new leader anyway — whether temporary or permanent.
For the time being, the youth league’s constitution stipulates that, in the absence of a president, the deputy president — in this case Ronald Lamola — should step in to the breach until a new leader is properly elected. But, as Lamola is no doubt keenly aware, the youth league is unlikely to drag its heels on electing new leadership, and the battle for the throne will be hotly contested.
Youth league treasurer general Pule Mabe, one of the more senior youth leaders, is said to believe that he has what it takes to take over from Malema. And other names are slowly coming to the fore of possible youth league “hijackers”.
If the ANCYL’s NEC meeting does eventually take place, to decide whether to back Malema or not, its leaders would do well to remember that a youth league succession race during the ANC’s election year can only distract it from the vital decision that must be taken in Mangaung: who is the best man or woman to lead the ANC — and consequently the country — after December.
For more news and multimedia on ANC Youth League president Julius Malema click here.