He was not present. But he was everywhere:
on posters, T-shirts, in speeches, chants, songs and dances. He was there in spirit.
Or rather, embattled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s fiery energy, manifested in the hundreds of delegates gathered in the intimate hall at the Oasis Lodge in Polokwane, Limpopo, for the provincial league’s conference on Friday night.
Most of them came in support of him. Some in spite of him. But either way they were there in their numbers.
It was to have been the beginning of the conference where Malema’s longstanding friend and political ally, Jacob Lebogo, was expected to be reelected as the provincial secretary by the end of the weekend.
But even before the conference kicked off it was apparent that politically wounded Malema was at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Lebogo disappeared shortly after proceeding got under way. His detractors were plotting to have a parallel conference in Malema’s hometown Seshego.
Given Lebogo’s sure victory — all the ANCYL regions had nominated him — it made no noticeable difference. He didn’t even make an address. Friday night was not about the future provincial leaders or the election. It was about Malema and his defence and the league he has led since 2008.
“Where is Julius? We want Julius. We are not all here,” the delegates demanded in song.
Programmes were used to write messages to their leader.
“Where is Juju? Julius is our leader until 2014,” read the posters.
Malema’s political ally, ANC chairperson Cassel Mathale, officially opened proceedings. He took to the podium, saying: “Amandla”, to which the delegates responded: “Juju”. Mathale said that historically there have always been contradictions between the ANC and its youth league but that through “political management” the hostilities had been defused and that the movement had emerged stronger and more united. He said that the ANC had the right to discipline members but at the same time leaders had a duty to educate and guide its youth wing just as the youth league had a responsibility to listen and learn.
‘Agents of change’
He encouraged them to become “agents of change” and to work towards building a strong and effective ANC.
“The ANCYL is a trusted component of NDR [national democratic revolution] and should not be liquidated,” he said.
Referring to an address ANC president Jacob Zuma made to the league in which Zuma said that the youth league was the “custodian of the future of the ANC”, Mathale said: “You are therefore playing your rightful role in participating in ANC processes including influencing leadership composition”.
ANCYL secretary general Sindiso Magaqa then took to the stage, saying: “Long live Julius Malema, long live.”
Moments later the hundreds of delgates were on their feet and marched to the stage singing in SeSotho: “Where is Julius Malema?”. They sang it over and over, louder and faster. The energy was electrifying.
Magaqa failed at his attempts to silence them. Mathale stood up. He said: ‘Hlalaphanzi [Sit down] Hlalaphanzi comrades”. Delegates responded: “We want Julius”. Mathale interjected: “You have made you point. You have made your mark”. But the defiant Malema supports retorted chanting: “Juju. Juju. Juju”.
The ANC chairperson retreated to his seats but not before rebuking the youths for disrupting the conference.
‘Written in the blood of young people’
Magaqa stepped in again, begging the delegates to allow him the opportunity to explain where Malema was and why he was not present. But they would not budge. Eventually, the leadership had no choice but to abide by the request from the delegates that Malema should either be called to attend on Saturday or they would take the conference to his house.
Once the tension was defused Magaqa launched into a powerful speech. He said youth league members had reached a point where they felt no more pain.
“There’s no reason to run away from the rain because we are wet,” he shouted to loud applause.
“The history of this revolution is written in the blood of young people.”
“In a revolution there will be casualties. It is no one else who can liberate our president Julius. It is us who will liberate him in Mangaung,” said Magaqa.
On Saturday afternoon the approximately 700 delegates are expected to pay their president a house call. The conference continues.