Why We Should Pay More Attention to Julius Malema
Julius is not a Kingmaker
In and of himself, even with the backing of the title of “President of ANC Youth League”, his power is limited. That he has significant sway is beyond doubt, especially after the Midrand conference, however, something else underpins this source of power. It is still the traditional structures that elect the president of the African National Congress.
Malema cannot force nationalisation, property and banking policies?
No. This requires a two thirds majority in parliament, which the ANC does not hold and, even if they did hold such a majority, by demonstration the ANC has been a responsible stakeholder and Julius is far from being able to bend this.
Ignoring him will not make him go away
A definite no. The argument that media fuels his acerbic rants is baseless; if anything responsible media coverage is crucial in ensuring that Julius is bound by all the checks and balances that binds every other South African citizen.
Malema gets attention because he brings up important issues
Well, Malema spouts populist rhetoric that addresses significant South African problems – those of development. He attacks all those who represent old South African wealth from the modern day Rand Lords to even the current crop of tenderpreneurs. To his supporters, who often wait hand and foot on relatively wealthy white people all day or who have seen the blue light brigades storming past once too often, his appeal is enormous. Some would have us believe that he is just a Young Turk, learning the ropes, someone who will be integrated in to the democratic political structures. I do not believe that he will change his tone, however, as he feeds on the current malaise that is South African development.
In an article by Moeletsi Mbeki, where he predicted South Africa’s “Tunisia Day”, he believes that by 2020 the South African government will not be able to continue funding the ever expanding social programs as well as ensure development benefits the poorest that need it. And here is the base of Malema’s true power, the malaise that afflicts the poor, who have seen little change 17 years after emancipation.
Should this come to pass, Malema will be coming into his political prime. He is surely more powerful now, if not king maker; Julius’s opinions are no longer considered baseless opinions – post-Midrand Conference Julius’s policy is now ANCYL policy, underpinned by significant support of its approximate 300,000 members – fully one third of ANC membership. This support will probably feel even more disenfranchised at the current pace of development and equitable redistribution.
He has also fired a warning shot across Zuma’s bow ahead of 2012’s Mangaung National Executive Council Conference. Julius, while stating he will protect Zuma from the media, still believes that he and his league have the power to remove Zuma from power à la Mbeki at Polokwane in 2007.
Senior structures in the ANC aren’t taking this lying down. They have congratulated Malema, but also reminded him that Youth League policy does not instruct ANC policy.
Mantashe and Vavi are also Julius’s crosshairs and this must be followed closely in the next year. Removing Mantashe as ANC Secretary General is a priority for Malema, a position that has been mentioned in connection with Vavi’s name – another person whose mantle Julius is trying to usurp.
Malema may have some serious supporters in his corner: Winnie Madikazele Mandela, possibly Tokyo Sexwale, and Floyd Shivambu, to name but a few. He also faces significant opposition in the older ANC guard in the form of Zuma, Mantashe and COSATU’s Vavi.
The most effective way to battle Malema’s rhetoric, however, will be to remove the sense of dissatisfaction that he feeds off of. This is not something the ANC-led government can do in the period leading up to Mangaung, and in the next 18 months we can expect far more concern over calls for nationalisation and property expropriation from Julius, and for him to become even more vicious as the stakes get higher.