The African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL)responded late last night to the charges being laid against its President, Julius Sello Malema, and a member of its National Executive Committee, Floyd Shivambu. Over the weekend, the ANCYL President shored up support within the youth league at a special meeting of its national executive committee, which dutifully provided support to it’s President, and indicated that a “political issues” needed to be discussed with the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC). In an indication of the proposed mobilisation strategy to support the President, the ANCYL concluded its statement with the following:
The Special NEC re-affirmed the determination to fight tirelessly
and fearlessly for economic freedom in our lifetime, particularly
nationalisation of Mines, expropriation without compensation and provision
of free quality education for all.
The strategic intent, from within Malema’s camp, is clearly to recast the disciplinary process, as trying to silence the radical programme of economic transformation being proposed by the ANCYL. Those opposed to Malema, are suggesting that brute strength will subdue an increasingly visible and vociferous Malema. It will be an intriguing political contest, and unfortunately will have implications for how the agenda on tackling inequality will shape up. There are three major reasons why the process and outcome of the disciplinary hearing will have on matters the public policy agenda on inequality and redistribution.
First, as argued by Sipho Hlongwane, it is important for our society to keep the eye on the allegations of corruption against Malema. The evidence in the media is at best circumstantial, however even at this early stage there remains a case to answer to. There is a case building against the business practices of Malema, and it requires significant focus. Ultimately, there needs to be a process for Malema to face whatever charges he may face, which is fair to him, and will offer the South African public with an exact picture of the business dealings of an important leader in our society. Importantly, as reported by the City Press, the Hawks have confirmed a probe into the business dealings of Julius Malema.
The point is that Malema is being presented the poster child for the term “tenderpreneur”, and as such the investigation has huge symbolic significance . The outcome of any investigation will provide an insight into corruption in government, but will also provide South Africans with enough evidence to judge whether Malema is simply a crook, or whether his radical stances has made him a target.
Second, the theater of a trial provides Malema with exactly the platform he needs. It is a skill he demonstrated in shoring up support for President Jacob Zuma, in the trials he faced before becoming South Africa’s president . Jane Duncan, writing in SACSIS, interprets this skill at mobilisation as being ideologically expedient. She writes that:
The League also uses left wing and right wing rhetoric to mobilise a similar conflagration of interests to the fascists in the 1930’s, which explains why they can shift seamlessly from calls for ‘economic liberation in our lifetime’ to outright misogyny against women.
Duncan is raising a demanding perspective on the prospect of fascism, that is debatable. However, the skill of building a wide base of support is clearly evident, and especially the ideological expediency. An example of this strategy is evident in the press statement by the ANCYL soon after the initial corruption charges. The statement titled ” Fundamental Questions about the involvement of Big Business and Afrikaner Right Wing Capital in the smear campaign of President Julius Malema – we want to know” argues that
The Rupert family, which has funded apartheid government since the 1940s and which is the majority shareholder of the Afrikaner dominated and controlled Naspers Group (100% white male senior Management) owns Media24. Media24 owns and controls the following publications – Rapport, Die Beeld and City Press, Daily Sun newspapers, and all these publications replicate the apartheid ideology of white supremacy and portray black people as corrupt or superstitious human beings with no potential to develop and engage in conscious social, political and economic issues confronting South Africa.
The ANCYL is thus asking us to see the expose and allegations of corruption as part of Afrikaner conspiracy. In other words, it harks back to an apartheid era. It then makes common cause with all South Africans, indicating that the media demeans black people. Personally, I agree that there are significant challenges in how the media represents black people, but do not agree with the statement that the expose by the City Press represented some later day Afrikaner controversy. It will thus take legitimate questions that need to be raised to serve its political purposes. It will seek in doing this to recast today’s challenges in terms of those under apartheid.
For example, the quoted extract clearly lays the blame at the door of an Afrikaner dominated media, which is controlled by the the Rupert family. The facts are that the Rupert family has denied that its own any significant shares in NASPERS, and the 2010 Annual Report of Naspers (ironically) list the government run Public Investment Commission as the largest shareholder. I doubt that the ANCYL simply made a mistake in this regard, as it more likely that the truth stood in the way of making the political argument. If the mistake was a genuine, it raises profound issues on how the ANCYL develops policy and shapes its responses.
In recent weeks the ANCYL has stepped up the rhetoric. Political mobilisation will be around the fact that the current leadership in the ANC is beholden to economic power constructed under apartheid. To illustrate, here is Malema in his own words in a recent Sunday Times article:
One of the reasons South Africa has achieved almost nothing with regards to economic transformation and the transfer of wealth from the minority to the majority, is because some leaders in government are tempted to de-politicise economic policies.The de-politicisation of government policies and interventions has led to massive inequalities and increasing unemployment and poverty levels because the politicians deployed in government are trying to be something they are not.In everything the ANC does, politics and ideology should never be absent – because that is what kept the ANC together for decades. [Emphasis added]
In other words, as the disciplinary process unfolds, the ANCYL will make the argument that structural change is being limited by old economic power from the apartheid era, with new political power. Malema will then cast himself as the alternative, and many will turn a blind eye to the questionable business deals, the belligerence Malema has directed at opponents and provide support not because nationalisation is the best approach, but rather that he speaks to a reality that people understand as their own.
Third, for all the criticism that Malema faces, it is important that to recognise that the calls for nationalisation and expropriation without compensation, have shifted the economic debate, and has helped to bring inequality to the centre of the debate. Inequality is the foundational issue of our time, that our country must focus upon. Whilst the debate certainly does not hinge on Malema, the outcome of the disciplinary hearings will offer a signpost, unfortunately on redistribution. It is a dangerous signpost, as questions of redistribution and inequality are held ransom to the “ups and downs” of a politician’s fortunes. The disciplinary hearings will give a rallying point to further conflate the persona of Malema, with redistribution and a more equal society. The deeper problem is that there is limited leadership on questions of inequality from the leadership of the ANC. Citing the Gini Coefficient or the very obvious divide between haves and have nots is of course core to the parlance of ANC leaders today. However, what is missing is the difficult task of engaging with the politics of redistribution. The core question of how inequality can be addressed is not being tackled in a way that shifts the debate on redistribution away from punitive stance taken by the ANCYL, to one that stitches together a pro-equality coalition that provides support to a set of deliberate and detailed interventions. The introduction of the green paper on National Health Insurance by Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, provides an example of effective leadership on contentious public policy proposals focused on addressing inequality.
Disciplining Malema in the ANC, or investigating Malema’s business dealings are important in many senses. Providing effective leadership on inequality and redistribution is however much more more important, because redistributive pressures will not be disciplined. The space is now open for the “Top Six” in the ANC to show that they can provide a better example of leadership on redistribution. [End]
Press Statements Related to this article
The ANCYL initial statement on Botswana
The ANCYL apology for the comments on Botswana that caused all the problems
The ANC Press Statement on the Charging of Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu
The ANCYL response to the disciplinary charges
Zapreneur explains the ANCYL economic policies
Nationalise! Expropriate! The Pillars for Economic Transformation according to the ANCYL — The Zapreneur summary of the ANCYL policy document on economic transformation.