My understanding is that one of the main but subtle reasons that Malema visited Zimbabwe was a public relations manoeuvre in his quest to establish a vibrant network of youth movements from the liberation parties across Southern Africa.
Malema strikes me as someone whose current antics are directly or indirectly aiming towards presidential ambitions in South Africa. He may therefore be thinking ahead in order to create a trail towards this larger-than-life dream for self or someone behind the scenes. There are huge prospects that President Zuma may either not make it or may struggle at the ANC’s 2012 congress, which will ultimately determine the party’s candidate for the next presidential election.
The main reason for former president Thabo Mbeki’s fallout with the ANC at their Polokwane meeting and his eventual ouster was his supposed leftist political posturing as well as his sublime approach towards revolutionary objectives. He was adjudged to be too mild towards pro-poor programmes and policies, which in the eyes of the party’s radicals was tantamount to a betrayal of ideals of the struggle for democracy in South Africa. Some smeared him with pro-capitalist excesses protective of the economic imbalances that had been predominant in the apartheid era.
Zuma’s short romance as the head of state is already under heavy scrutiny from an otherwise impatient ANC. There is therefore already talk of a reluctance to retain him at the 2012 congress. In that light, I believe that many other individuals are already busy permuting possibilities while others are creating grand mastery plans for self-elevation, should Zuma’s ejection create a presidential space.
From the unfolding events in the recent past, I have doubt that the actions and expressions of Malema are in any manner isolated from a particular thought process that has some tinge of consideration for a post-Zuma possibility.
Malema’s main ecstatic insinuations include his radical stance towards a pro-poor policy framework, a rushed economic re-distribution framework, an urgent Zimbabwe-style land reform programme, a reincarnation of revolutionary attributes and discharges of the intra-apartheid era and a general anti-imperialist notion hinged not only on a racial divide, but an international acclamation of Africa’s total liberation.
Malema’s agenda is being pursued through a vehement disregard for conventional authority structures either within the party or the country’s legal system. In fact he has gone on to attribute the media and the judiciary sectors in South Africa as still being dominated by apartheid regime operatives whose mandate is derived from the historical structures rather than the new dispensation. Malema is therefore on a trail and he may be the only or one of the few who know exactly where this will lead.
Malema’s strategy (or whoever is behind him) is to approach this rise into prominence through a wider and regional appeal rather than an entirely internal methodology. The intention seems to be to reconnect the regional revolutionary youth movements through the creation of a common identity in the fundamentals of the struggles of the past.
The consideration may be to bring together the ANC, Zanu PF, MPLA of Angola, Frelimo of Mozambique and Swapo of Namibia youth wings into a coalesced force that can then gain regional prominence. If this were to succeed Malema would naturally become the face behind the coalition. Judging by the rousing and “demi-god” status afforded to him on his Zimbabwe tour, I have no doubt he will be found befitting of leading this regional onslaught. Once Malema has secured the leadership of a powerful regional body of youth movements from Southern African countries’ revolutionary parties, it will allow him muscle to position the ANC and his personal brand not just as a South African entity but also rather with a regional influence.
The ANC does not really face a major threat from opposition political parties in South Africa. It has a sizeable following and loyalty which may see it sweep into power many times over before a formidable opposition offers severe contestation. The major battle is however within the ANC itself where there is an evident split between revolutionary conservatives of the nature of Malema and those that seem to find comfort in a more liberalised political execution. Zuma was seen as one who would rescue the ANC from its fall from being a precisely revolution-credentialed party; however this hope is hastily fading away as he is now viewed as compromising the radicalism expected of such a political genre. Malema is out to expose the alternative pathway that Zuma should have followed and therefore remind the party of the need to place him exactly where Mbeki ended up.
If Malema is able to re-ignite the revolutionary spirit in the party and re-connects it to the emotions of the poor people, then the scales will tip in his favour and whoever else may be behind him. If he even goes as far as re-igniting the revolutionary spirit in regional political parties through their youth wings, this will be another feather in his political cap, which will convince all internal ANC functionaries of the relevance of the party in the wider regional revolutionary agenda. A regional platform will influence a regional agenda and will inevitably set a broader revolutionary scheme within which the ANC becomes attached to. This will result in the obliteration of any vestigial resistance of half commitments to the revolutionary agenda of the party. Malema’s prominence will therefore be validated and the ANC agenda predetermined.
However, as Malema came to Zimbabwe, it may be unfortunate that our dear comrades in Zanu PF may not have been aware of the grand plan behind his euphoria. They could have therefore endorsed a grand plan, whose details may have escaped their analysis. In essence, Zanu PF’s hero granting to Malema may have been an endorsement of the power struggles tearing apart the ANC. So the revolutionary warpath that Malema brought to Zimbabwe could have really been a sly abuse of Zanu PF in inducing internal ANC political disputes and the creation of personal positioning in readiness for his final onslaught, come 2012.
At his rally in Mbare, Malema unorthodoxically attacked the violent nature of political campaigning that has become synonymous with Zimbabwe’s landscape. Remembering that Malema represents a youth wing which has utterly rebuffed dominance by its mainstream party leadership, he could have been hinting that Zanu PF’s youth wing should transform from being a rubber-stamping and abuse-prone appendage of the party into a more autonomous wing. If the Zanu PF youth wing follows the self-styled and free-willed demeanours of Malema’s ANC youth wing, then they may be able to resist the recurrent abuse by some party leaders in perpetuating or retaliating in political violence.
Political violence in Zimbabwean political parties has become the preserve of the youth wings driven to fulfil the ambitions of senior party leaders. Malema’s influence could therefore cause the emergence of a defiant youth wing in Zanu PF premised on the revolutionary stance of party structures’ self-determination. Malema’s open challenge to his party leaders and his political ambitions could also set a tone in Zanu PF where the youth wing may break from blind loyalty and even allow a self-set agenda. Could Malema’s influence be the breaking point for the transformation of Zanu PF’s youth wing? His euphoria will surely have deeper influences than could have been suspected.
=Trevor Maisiri is the co-founder and executive director of the African Reform Institute — a political leadership development organisation which also functions as a political “think-tank”.
By Trevor Maisiri