Juju 2.0: smarter, slim­mer, savvier

Financial Mail - - FINANCIAL MAIL EDITORIALS -

He may play the fool at times, but don’t be duped: Julius Malema is a mas­ter­ful politi­cian. The EFF’s de­ci­sion to sup­port the DA in the hung mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils of Tsh­wane and Jo­han­nes­burg, while re­fus­ing to en­ter a for­mal coali­tion, was a stroke of ge­nius.

For a start, it gives the EFF ef­fec­tive power with­out for­mal re­spon­si­bil­ity. It also ush­ers in an era of real pol­i­tics, as there will now be gen­uine con­tes­ta­tion over re­sources in SA’s eco­nomic heart­land. It may not be pretty to watch, but it will cer­tainly make our democ­racy more ro­bust.

It’s no se­cret: the DA and the EFF are on dif­fer­ent plan­ets when it comes to ide­ol­ogy. But in this case, your en­emy’s en­emy is your friend. At a deftly han­dled press con­fer­ence in Alexan­dra last week, Malema ex­plained (and he has a gift for ex­po­si­tion) that his party will sup­port the DA, which he says is the lesser of two devils, while re­main­ing in op­po­si­tion.

Of course, the EFF will ex­tract a price for that sup­port, es­pe­cially when it comes to vot­ing on the bud­get.

As an ex­am­ple, Malema says the EFF will not tol­er­ate the cre­ation of more bi­cy­cle lanes in Jo­han­nes­burg. He ar­gues, rightly, that the city does not have a bi­cy­cle cul­ture — has any­one ever seen a bi­cy­cle in those ded­i­cated lanes in the heart of Sand­ton? — and that the money would be bet­ter spent on the poor. It may seem an in­nocu­ous ex­am­ple, symp­to­matic of the early days of a hon­ey­moon, but the im­pli­ca­tion is clear: the DA will need to be­come more sen­si­tive to the un­em­ployed and marginalised than the ANC ad­min­is­tra­tion of Jo­han­nes­burg was.

The Jo’burg part­ner­ship will work — if the DA can root out cor­rup­tion and im­prove ser­vices and billing. There’s lots to fix, af­ter all: the Rea Vaya buses are hardly ever spot­ted, Pik­itup seems to be per­pet­u­ally on strike and the roads are a mess.

But Malema knows he can­not hold the DA to ran­som on ev­ery is­sue, or he will be seen as ob­struc­tive. The new, over­hauled and slim­line Malema is also more prac­ti­cal in his pro­nounce­ments.

He speaks of com­pa­nies giv­ing shares to work­ers, sim­i­lar to the Ger­man model. Em­ploy­ees, he says, will then have a stake in the busi­ness, ad­ding to their an­nual 13th cheque a 14th cheque — “the div­i­dends”.

This is hardly the talk of the hard Left. Sure, the EFF’s wild na­tional poli­cies on land and na­tion­al­i­sa­tion re­main in place — but they have achieved no trac­tion with the elec­torate, as shown by the EFF’s mea­gre 8% of the vote (6% in 2014). Malema knows this.

As for the fears that coun­cil cham­bers will soon wit­ness chaotic scenes like those in par­lia­ment, when EFF MPs pre­vented Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma from speak­ing, Malema is sooth­ing. The protests were en­tirely to do with Zuma, he says, and will not be repli­cated at mu­nic­i­pal level.

In any case, the EFF’s frus­tra­tion at Zuma’s re­fusal to re­spond to Thuli Madon­sela’s re­port on Nkandla, and speaker Baleka Mbete’s in­sis­tence on pro­tect­ing him, was shared by other op­po­si­tion par­ties and by many out­side par­lia­ment. Malema also knows how to pick his bat­tles.

At the bot­tom line, this all sug­gests the 22-year ide­o­log­i­cal and racial logjam of party pol­i­tics is be­gin­ning to splin­ter, and the em­pha­sis is shift­ing to the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of ad­min­is­tra­tion. In a strange in­ver­sion from the norm, we can now ex­pect mu­nic­i­pal pol­i­tics to pro­vide the lead.

Af­ter the elec­tions of 2014, the writ­ing on the wall should have been clear to the ANC. It should have moved to pre­vent the pre­vi­ously un­think­able: its loss of power in the eco­nomic heart of the coun­try, hous­ing nearly a quar­ter of SA’s peo­ple and the seedbed of fu­ture pros­per­ity. It failed to do so — and re­mains in de­nial. It is riven with fac­tions and led by an elec­toral li­a­bil­ity who re­tains sub­stan­tial pa­tron­age ca­pac­ity.

As for the DA, it has fi­nally re­futed the al­le­ga­tion that it is a party of mi­nori­ties only, and that black Africans will not vote for it in mean­ing­ful num­bers. You can­not achieve 27% of the na­tional vote with­out at­tract­ing vot­ers be­yond the mi­nori­ties.

The en­vi­ron­ment for party pol­i­tics has changed sud­denly, and sub­stan­tially. The DA, EFF and many smaller par­ties have shown they can re­spond and adapt. The ANC has not. Per­haps it can­not.

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