Blaming ANC moles for EFF dissent is too easy, Malema

EFF leader Julius Malema. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

EFF leader Julius Malema. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

I’m not a fan of moles. Besides being possibly cancerous, they’re just not as attractive as Cindy Crawford’s agents would have us believe. 

But spare a thought for poor Julius Malema. Forget unsightly facial features – he has to look out for spies in his own organisation, those pesky agent provocateurs he says the ANC planted to destabilise his new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

How does he know they’re there? Because he’s been one before.

“I was part of the leadership deployed to destroy [the Congrss of the People].
I was in that project and I know the tactics and I know and can see when that tendency emerges. I know how the ruling party operates,” Malema told journalists at a briefing on Thursday. “I know what tactics they use. I know the type of resources they use, I know the type of language that gets used by those who are deployed inside.” 

I’m not so sure about this line of reasoning. It can be boiled down to: “I know someone is doing something wrong because I’ve done it before.” Does that not qualify as an admission of guilt? Can a leader expect to protect his reputation and be trusted in future when he was responsible for such underhanded tactics?

Then came the scary part. It’s the bit when Malema forgets the cool kid at the back of the class act and something darker creeps in. 

“We know how to isolate an infiltrator,” he said. “We know how to isolate a disrupter.”

Malema was of course talking about the first rumblings of dissent within his organisation, on which the Mail & Guardian has reported. 

Many of the complaints against Malema are from members of the EFF who were there from day one and are embittered about being left out of top positions. Malema’s team tells me position obsession and hunger for power is not a culture they want to encourage in the EFF, and I take that point.

But that line about “isolating infiltrators” calls to my mind heavy-handed classic Communist techniques, and the breeding of an internal culture that is short on due process.

Because what if the complaints are legitimate? How are they dealt with within the organisation, without being branded a traitor to silence unpopular complaints?

“They are being used as infiltrators to collapse the EFF, render it dysfunctional and impose the same fate as all opposition parties since 1994 that were started and led by black leadership,” said Malema. “We don’t want anyone who brings wrong tendencies in the EFF. We have no room for such people.”

Malema usually an enormously entertaining speaker. He has a range that few politicians can match. At press briefings he generally has a bit of a grinning, impish and popular tone that draws the journalists in the room to his point. 

But “isolating infiltrators” reminded me of a similar moment I encountered when I first interviewed Malema, shortly after he was first elected as ANC Youth League leader in 2008. He had not yet made any of the statements that would make him a permanent feature of the South African news, but he was already drawing attention thanks to the chaotic conference that brought him to power. Expecting something of a firebrand given his previous political career, I sat down to our interview. Yet I was pleasantly surprised, as hundreds of journalists after me have been, by his maturity and understanding of the issues he faced as a leader.

During my interview, I didn’t encounter angry Malema but paranoid Malema, the same one who sees critics as moles. 

He blamed President Jacob Zuma’s then court woes on “forces of darkness” within the ANC.

“They are people who move only in the night, you can’t see them,” he told me in a complete departure from the rational tone that had governed the rest of the interview. “The imperialist forces are still involved.” 

We know the subsequent history. Malema fell out so badly with Zuma, he was expelled from the ruling ANC and went on to form EFF. Would he now blame Zuma’s legal cases on “forces of darkness”? Clearly not. 

It’s easy to whip up conspiracy theories and the paranoid side of Malema hints at something foreboding for his and our futures. For all our sakes, I’d like to see Malema do better at dealing with the unhappiness among some in his organisation.

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

Client Media Releases

NWU consistently among top SA universities in rankings
MTN gears up for Black Friday sale promotion
Software licensing should be getting simpler, but it's not
Utility outages: looking at the big picture
UKZN scientists get L'Or'eal-UNESCO Women in Science grants