Julius Malema and predicting the future you want

The déjà vu is washing over me like the phantom symptoms of a late winter bout of hypochondria.

I remember the lead-up to Polokwane.

The thuggish crowds outside Jacob Zuma’s court appearances.

The man we had known was in Shaik’s pockets since 1993, he who famously couldn’t keep it in his pants, the rape accused shower-after-baby-oil-sex to fend off HIV/AIDs who had only been doing his Zulu man duty by her, Umshini wami mshini wam …  it was entirely impossible that my ANC would ever allow this man to rise to the venerable chambers previously occupied by heroes of the stature of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela … and kept lukewarm by Mbeki’s occasional visits.

And my paying clients insisting I make a call: will he become president?

Well, say I, Mbeki only appointed him deputy because he needed to fend off the challenge from Winnie a-fate-too-awful-to-be-contemplated-by-the-financial-markets Madikizela-Mandela. He had a certain ethnic appeal, so to speak, in the Inkatha heartlands of Kwazulu-Natal but Mbeki knew no-one would ever seriously propose him as president!

And as I knew, you don’t bet against Thabo Mbeki, the master of palace politics …

… and now here we are again.

The weekend the charges against Malema were announced, SARS, the Public Protector and the Hawks were reportedly deep into investigations of their own.

How could Malema hope to sell himself as a victim just as his lifestyle and his predation on the public purse became the subject of such intense scrutiny?

Can the man whose clothes and accoutrement cost the annual income of any twenty of the youths he hopes to represent … represent them or gain their sympathy?

Yes! I need to shout in my own ear. Yes they can … they have … they will again.

Maybe not this time.

This situation has its own dynamics and there is no point in second guessing what the ANC Disciplinary Committee might decide after it finishes meetings this week – but we mustn’t pretend to ourselves or anyone else that we can tell the future.

Will Malema’s minions brute about the streets wearing 100% Juju t-shirts and threatening to fight to the death for their … leader?

Will this sway the process?

Where is the unswayed process going anyway?

There are only two things I know for sure.

The first is that I do not know what the future holds for Julius Malema. He could be banished from the ANC. His disciplining might  provoke a backlash that conceivably could lead to Zuma’s downfall and to Mangaung being an even more corroding rerun of Polokwane. He might disappear into obscurity in the wasteland that (until very recently) has been politics outside of the ANC. He might spend a few years in the wilderness and return chastened and wiser and work his way back to becoming the coming man.

The second thing I know for sure is that my desire for particular outcomes is a serious barrier to me thinking sensibly about which outcomes are most likely.

I know this is not a great and profound insight – nor am I here on the road to Damascus or any particular destination; intellectual, metaphorical or spiritual.

I do hear the breathless clamour of the prediction and analysis industry prophesying the best and the worst of all possible worlds – depending on the emotional predisposition of their target market.

Predicting the worst is often a mistaken attempt to warn against a particular course of action … it’s a political act and an act of propaganda.

Predicting the best is often a semi-religious act, a sort of shamanistic incantation, willing a particular future into the present.

For me, I admonish myself daily:

It is okay to hope the ANC will rediscover its soul and its leaders their long-lost spines. But hoping for a thing does not make it more probable. No-one knows what is going to happen with Malema. So sit on your hands and wait like the rest of us.

4 thoughts on “Julius Malema and predicting the future you want

  1. The ‘soul’ of the ANC cannot be retrieved, it has been compelled to change and evolve. In the socio-economic context of fluid political confidence, aspirations, traditional allegiances etc, while there is no substantial, vibrant, middle-class based in the majority of the poulation of SA, the political leadership will always be tethered to an unmediated dialogue with populist leaders, wherever their social base may be. The nature of the dialogue will tend to be based in the personalisation of political identities.

    It appears therefore, that any transition to a more stable SA, without changing the basic class structure, requires the political vacuum to be inhabited by a middle-class of depth and substance, that will effectively mediate the populists and resonate with the political leadership. This political landscape is where the future of SA is evolving. The alternative….is another debate…

    While no leadership exists to forge the evolution of a socio-economic middle-class, that occupies the vacancy, politics will be characterised by trends that are unpredictable & populist, with the political leadership experiencing fluctuations of authority. Perhaps this is what lies behind the ‘new’ program of the DA ? More opportunism…..wonder I do ?

  2. I have another sense of déjà vu of a certain youthful party organiser who specialised in rabble-rousing and whipping up crowds of have-nots: P W Botha, though he was better educated and not as openly dishonest as Malema.

    Lyndon Johnson famously said that it is better to have an opponent “inside the tent pissing outside than outside the tent pissing inside”. This was the trap Mbeki fell into by firing Zuma. Once he was fired, Zuma had nothing to loose (Mbeki being the master of patronage and co-option) so could campaign against Mbeki. All the other so-called leaders within the ANC were too frightened of losing positions or predations if they crossed Mbeki. Talking of déjà vu, if Malema is fired from the ANC (in terms of his previous “suspended sentence”) whatever discipline and restraint the ANC has over him disappears as he goes “outside the tent”. The critical issue is where will he go and who will follow him. To cool his heels for five years, continue using his connections network to amass wealth and rejoin the ANC later and take up a position could be an option – or he could join a more radical group.

    The other question is where will the ANC go without Malema. Probably Cosatu will get stronger within the ANC and the relatively moderates will loose voice. This could lurch SA even further Left or hasten the splitting of the ANC along ideological lines. Certainly the lame-chicken president 783 is not going to keep the factions from fighting.

  3. This was published a little over 30 years ago and is, in my opinion an eternal truth of human nature:

    “People who hold strong opinions on complex social issues are likely to examine relevant empirical evidence in a biased manner. They are apt to accept confirming evidence at face value while subjecting disconfirming evidence to critical evaluation, and as a result to draw undue support for their initial positions from mixed or random empirical findings.

    Thus, the result of exposing contending factions in a social dispute to an identical body of relevant empirical evidence may be not a narrowing of disagreement but rather an increase in polarization.”

    Charles G Lord, L Ross, Mark R Lepper, Biased Assimilation and Attitude Polarization: The Effects of Prior Theories on Subsequently Considered Evidence

    In essence it says that people put their energies into confirming their own positions without considering alternative views and coming to new conclusions. However, the Malema saga resolves itself or not, it has gone on long enough for the legacy to be with us for a long time.

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