Malema's tightening noose is too convenient

The timing of legal action against Julius Malema is too convenient, even if he does deserve it, argues Verashni Pillay.

The timing of legal action against Julius Malema is too convenient, even if he does deserve it, argues Verashni Pillay.

I'm not a fan of Julius Malema. Clearly.

He represents the worst kind of politics in post-apartheid South Africa: opportunistic, hollow and dangerous in its disregard for democratic norms.

Yet I can't help but flinch at the blatant political manoeuvring behind the mounting legal attack heading his way.

In case you missed it, it's the beginning of the end for Malema. Again. If newspaper headlines are anything to go by, the triple probe heading his way is even more ghastly than it sounds.

From the weekend papers to this week's dailies, there is one thing on every journalist's mind – the tightening noose around Malema's neck courtesy of the Hawks, the South African Revenue Service and the public protector.

"Thuli blasts Juju's tender"

"Nine in dock with Juju"

"Get out, police tell Malema"

The various investigations relate mostly to Malema's dodgy dealings in Limpopo, where he and his allies reportedly used local tenders as a glorified piggy bank of sorts.
R100-million worth of glory, apparently. Malema is said to owe the taxman a whopping R16-million in unpaid taxes, which gives you a small idea of what he was making.

So we should all be relieved that he is being brought to book right? If anything, he deserves it for his never-ending offensive statements.

For those more interested in the politics of it, this will be read within the short-sighted narrative of Mangaung – the venue of the ANC's elective conference come December, which has become shorthand for what is turning out to be a familiar leadership battle within our ruling party. The stakes are high – who will be the ANC's president come the new year?

Suddenly every single political matter is read with the Mangaung lens: what does this mean for the two factions? Who wins in this situation – the Jacob Zuma camp or those favour his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe?

In the case of Juju's latest legal woes, the answer is seemingly clear that the silencing of the ousted ANC youth league leader, who has made it his business to criticise Zuma, is definitely a loss for the Motlanthe camp.

But the incredibly narrow framework of Mangaung has forced South Africans into a rather simplistic understanding of the situation. Because the real loser here is neither Zuma, nor Motlanthe but it is every South African who must again watch our state resources being used for political ends.

It is a familiar sight, particularly the use of state intelligence resources, which we've seen in the conspiracy claims emerging out of our government at various times, under former president Thabo Mbeki, and now Zuma.

As Mail & Guardian editor-in-chief Nic Dawes put it in an analysis on the subject, it "is a B-movie that has been stuck on repeat, with limited variations in the cast, ever since".

This time it's a different set of state institutions that have conveniently moved ahead on a series of charges and allegations, which have been in the public domain for some time. Funny that a week before nominations officially open for Mangaung, Malema would find himself in court.

Now don't get me wrong. I want Malema to face the music for his wrong-doings. He has been long overdue for an investigation into what seems a dubious accumulation of wealth.

But why did that not happen when all the information came to light? City Press broke the story about "Malema's secret fund", the Ratanang Trust, more than a year ago and the worrying dealings of On-Point Engineers in Limpopo have been public knowledge for absolute ages.

I've heard it said that Malema was on a protected list when he was still in favour in certain circles, which kept the taxman from his door. With the withdrawal of that favour came a withdrawal of that protection. Could that be true of the other investigations too?

Are they a metaphorical pack of dogs that Zuma has been waiting to unleash when the threat became too much from his former number one supporter turned enemy? If so, it is a damned shame. The law should have been allowed to run its course as and when allegations came to light, not when those fighting for power decided to use it for their own ends.

Of course Malema and friends will mimic this very argument in an attempt to save their own skin. It's grimace-inducing, not because they cheapen the legitimate concern of the abuse of state resources, but because those behind the manoeuvring have so easily allowed him to use that defence.

In the end it doesn't really matter what comes out of Malema's court case, headline grabbing as it is. Malema will play the martyr, of course. But the big guns the ANC wields when its leadership battles get most intense will deliver the most damage – not to an individual but to its usual target: our state institutions and the strength of our democracy.

Verashni is the deputy editor of the M&G Online. You can read her column here, and follow her on Twitter here.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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