Doesn’t the Julius Malema saga feel so familiar?
Remember how the Jacob Zuma campaign seemed to transform each new obstacle placed in his path into fuel for his political train that eventually steamed triumphant into Polokwane in December 2007?
The fact that he was known far and wide as hopelessly incapable of moderating his sexual behaviour and as being on the take from, at least, Shabir Shaik, seemed to make almost no difference to the eventual outcome … unless the legal and other processes to charge him actually strengthened his claim to the presidency.
He was the victim of Mbeki’s shenanigans and he was heading a column of pro-poor ANC alliance cadres that were coming to take the ANC back from the pro-monopoly capital “1996 class project” – and every deed or word against that was coming from the privileged few defending their privilege. The marching column was irresistible and Polokwane was its destiny. Or at least that was the narrative that seemed to win out.
With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that Zuma’s success was all about momentum – and its inevitability is a post hoc construction.
I remember a movie from my childhood where the hero escapes almost certain death (it was either Indiana Jones or one of the Bonds ) by running across about fifty metres of crocodile infested waters by … yes, you guessed it: stepping on the back of each starving crocodile but with such speed that he was on his way to the next one before they snapped at him or sunk.*
That is probably a better metaphor for Zuma’s perilous progress towards Polokwane than the one that has him steaming towards that conference as if it was his manifest destiny. The second post of this blog was called The Accidental President and in it I argued that Zuma’s presidency was a result of an unlikely set of circumstances and he was not a character that many could have previously imagined in the role.
On closer examination it becomes clear that Zuma, on several occasions, almost crashed and burned – and came close to going to prison. Ultimately it was only the forward momentum of his campaign that allowed him to escape the snapping crocodiles at his heals.
In fact, I would put it even more strongly: for Jacob Zuma the only way to avoid ignominy and prison was to win the presidency.
And that is where the comparison with Julius Malema becomes so compelling – especially in his weekend attempt to boost the Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime campaign into the mouths and minds of the genuinely marginalised and poverty-stricken in places like Diepsloot and Bantu Bonke.
Just as his disciplinary hearing comes to a head.
Just as his questionable personal finances start to be ‘put to the question’ by various authorities.
Just as he prepares to lead the marches on the Chamber of Mines and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
He told those audiences: “They [the whites] found us here. They did not bring any land nor did they bring any minerals.”
And: “”We are here for every one of you. We will not rest until you stop worrying about where your next meal will come from.”
Woven into every word and phrase is the argument that the incumbent leadership of the ANC has failed the poor. That Julius Malema’s fight against Jacob Zuma is actually a fight to have the needs of the poor and dispossessed met.
Can Julius Malema, engorged as he and his comrades apparently are from sucking the marrow from the bones of Limpopo’s (amongst others)
public purse skeletal public finances (some bad metaphors are impossible to fix – ed) hope to pull off this audacious argument?
Clearly he can.
Clearly he is betting on himself to be sitting up in the cab of a triumphant train steaming into Mangaung; to have turned all obstacles aside and spun the narrative of the little guy standing up against the incumbents, standing up for the poor and dispossessed.
The parallels are not perfect. Julius Malema is not the apex of a push for the presidency of the ANC – he is too young, untested and controversial to aspire to those lofty heights this time around. He is rather part of the campaign of other powerful contenders – although he hopes to be nested near the centre of a new ruling configuration of the ANC.
Finally, Zuma had the backing of the SACP, Cosatu and a host of ANC democrats exhausted by Mbeki’s stale centralism – as well as a swathe of aspirant BEE wannabes who felt excluded from the previous gravy train.
Julius Malema (and those who hope to benefit from his campaigning) have nothing like the mighty alliance of those disaffected by Mbeki’s presidency.
After yesterday’s radical cabinet reshuffle and Zuma’s apparent ability to reinvent himself as an anti-corruption and responsive president I would have to bet on the incumbents and against the invaders at the castle gate.
This is the week, however, when Malema’s gamble will either pay off or fail. On Wednesday his disciplinary hearing resumes. On Thursday and Friday the marches on the JSE and the Chamber of Mines will take place.
This is not an accident of timing.
This is about planning, planning by individuals and groups with large appetites for risk – especially when the prize is so rich and the price of failure so high.
*I have a terrible feeling that someone has used that metaphor for Zuma’s march to Polokwane before … so let me apologise in advance if I stole it … and while on the textual commentary – I found this in Wikipedia while trying to check if the image had, in fact, been used for Polokwane before:
“Ross Kanaga as James Bond used four crocodiles as stepping stones to reach safety on the other side. Kananga, who owned the crocodile farm seen in the film, and after whom the main villain is named, did the stunt five times wearing the same crocodile skin shoes as his character had chosen to wear. During the fourth attempt, the last crocodile bit through the shoe and into his foot.The fifth attempt is one seen on film, with the tied-down crocodiles snapping at his feet as he passed over them.”