The sturdy ship built by two men who helped each other out many times po­lit­i­cally was des­tined to run aground, writes Mondli Makhanya

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This dark cloud has to be re­solved. And there­fore any form of sick­ness or death or any other ma­te­rial con­di­tion should never pre­vent me from hav­ing my day in court

One day in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture, recorders of history will look back and marvel at how two pow­er­ful men in­flu­enced the tra­jec­to­ries of one another’s ca­reers.

It will be an epic story of loy­alty, re­spect, am­bi­tion, fall­ing out, ha­tred and back-stab­bing. The two main char­ac­ters in the plot – Ja­cob Zuma and Julius Malema – are prob­a­bly the smartest, most charis­matic and ruth­less po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tors in the land right now.

Malema is a street­wise, nat­u­ral-born leader and a bru­tal ex­e­cu­tioner of op­po­nents. Zuma is cun­ning and equally lethal in deal­ing with those who stand in his way. So lethal is he that leg­end has it that he ac­quired his dou­ble head by swal­low­ing his twin in the womb dur­ing a strug­gle for nutri­tion.

The recorders of history will par­tic­u­larly look back at the events of the first week of Au­gust 2015 – a week that was de­fined by the bat­tles and for­tunes of the two men.

They will re­call that Malema – once a ded­i­cated dis­ci­ple of the older man – stood in front of court this week and de­fined him­self as the ul­ti­mate anti-Zuma pros­e­ly­tiser. He cheek­ily stated that, un­like oth­ers who pre­tended to want their “day in court”, he would never run away from the op­por­tu­nity to prove his in­no­cence.

“This dark cloud has to be re­solved. And there­fore any form of sick­ness or death or any other ma­te­rial con­di­tion should never pre­vent me from hav­ing my day in court. I plead with the judge and the na­tional pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­ity. You have ac­cused me for too long; let me have my day in court‚” he told his sup­port­ers.

He fur­ther con­trasted him­self with Pres­i­dent Zuma by in­struct­ing his sup­port­ers not to come and sup­port him in court, a far cry from the Zuma camp’s past en­cour­age­ment of his back­ers to form an in­tim­i­dat­ing mass out­side courts when­ever he ap­peared be­fore judges.

The his­to­ri­ans will record that the pres­i­dent’s week be­gan with an ugly fight with the Public Pro­tec­tor and ended with hu­mil­i­a­tion in Par­lia­ment, where he ren­dered him­self “Pres­i­dent Angazi” by re­peat­edly plead­ing ig­no­rance of is­sues that were com­mon cause.

But as much as Malema would like to dif­fer­en­ti­ate him­self from Zuma, their his­to­ries and for­tunes are in­ter­twined. They have lifted each other and brought each other down. They have stood to­gether against com­mon en­e­mies, jointly dealt ruth­lessly with foes and had each other’s backs when times were rough.

It was Malema, then a young pro­vin­cial sec­re­tary of the ANC Youth League in Lim­popo, who was in the front line of Fikile Mbalula’s shock troops in the run-up to the wa­ter­shed Polok­wane con­fer­ence. Us­ing the plau­si­ble ex­cuse of be­ing young and im­ma­ture, those shock troops dealt harshly with then pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki and his al­lies. They com­posed and pop­u­larised the crude songs about Zuma’s per­ceived tor­men­tors dur­ing his trou­bles with the law.

Once Zuma had been crowned ANC leader, it was Malema, by then the youth league pres­i­dent, who was thrust by the el­ders to the fore of the putsch that ousted Mbeki from the Union Build­ings. A se­nior leader who backed Malema for the pres­i­dency of the league in 2008 ex­plained at the time that with Mbalula’s ageen­forced exit, a per­son of Malema’s force­ful­ness was needed to pro­tect Zuma from am­bi­tious sharks in the Polok­wane coali­tion.

Malema played the role like a Real Madrid de­fender, scar­ing the pants off any­one – in­side and out­side the ANC – who posed a threat to Zuma. No one, not even bish­ops and se­nior Cab­i­net min­is­ters, was spared Malema’s poi­sonous bite.

Zuma re­turned the favour, pro­tect­ing the en­fant ter­ri­ble from those who sought to prune his power. Zuma praised him from the hill­tops, even sug­gest­ing he was a Nel­son Man­dela in the mak­ing. At the height of his youth league pres­i­dency, Malema struck fear into the hearts of the grizzled, grey-haired men at Luthuli House and in Cab­i­net – such was the power he de­rived from his close as­so­ci­a­tion with Num­ber One.

But as the isiZulu say­ing goes, okun­gapheli kuyahlola (all good things come to an end). In this case though, the good thing was not such a good thing. It was a re­la­tion­ship that was de­struc­tive for the na­tion, founded on the premise of Mafia-style mu­tual pro­tec­tion.

In en­gi­neer­ing Malema’s down­fall, Zuma ren­dered his pro­tégé vul­ner­a­ble. With­out the cover of the ANC, Malema was open to at­tacks from all an­gles. Law en­force­ment agen­cies and the rev­enue ser­vice – who had all along been aware of, but turned a blind eye to, his ques­tion­able busi­ness deal­ings – were let loose on him. It also be­came open sea­son for all those Malema had hurt in the ANC, and they were de­ter­mined to make him feel the pain he had in­flicted on them.

Drenched and shiv­er­ing in the rain, Malema begged to be let back in­side the house dur­ing the ANC’s Man­gaung con­fer­ence. But Zuma, who was now sur­rounded by many who Malema had once bul­lied and bruised, slammed the door in his face.

This fall­out be­tween “fa­ther and son” was to have a pro­found im­pact on South African pol­i­tics. Rather than killing him off, Malema’s time in the down­pour spawned a new man who would go on to make Zuma’s life a mis­ery. The Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) may be based on some form of pop­ulist and mil­i­tant pol­i­tics, but it de­rives its energy from the need to ex­act vengeance on Zuma and oth­ers who turfed Malema and his as­so­ci­ates out into the cold.

This week, the on­go­ing bat­tle be­tween the two men played out in a court­house in the north­ern­most city of Polok­wane and the par­lia­men­tary precinct in the south­ern­most city of Cape Town. In Polok­wane, Malema took the fight to the pres­i­dent by us­ing the plat­form to ac­cuse Zuma’s gov­ern­ment of us­ing the state ma­chin­ery to kill him and his party off. In Par­lia­ment, he pum­melled Zuma with his “pay back the money” tor­ture cam­paign.

Malema has now opened a new front by tak­ing the Nkandla mat­ter to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court. So the next time they meet, it will be in the city of Johannesburg.

If South Africa’s po­lit­i­cal scene were the MGM Grand, the judges would have Malema ahead on points. He is dic­tat­ing the terms of this fight, while the more pow­er­ful man has to rely on coun­ter­punches to keep up. Through the EFF’s rum­bus­tious po­lit­i­cal style, Malema has dis­tracted the ANC from its many agenda items and fo­cused the party’s energy and re­sources on de­fend­ing its leader.

Some in the party have sug­gested that if Zuma were to be re­called be­fore the end of his term, it would be be­cause Nkandla had made him a li­a­bil­ity.

Bar­ring a con­vic­tion and jail sen­tence against Malema, it is likely the younger man will con­tinue to haunt Zuma be­yond his term of of­fice.

The thing that will de­fine Zuma’s legacy more than any­thing else will be the mat­ter of that com­pound with its fire pool and cat­tle culvert – a mat­ter Malema has made sure never leaves the tongues of South Africans.


PEN­SIVE Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers leader Julius Malema is now a thorn in the pres­i­dent’s side


Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma

in the Na­tional Assem­bly

dur­ing a ques­tion and

an­swer ses­sion with mem­bers of


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