The outcome of policy and leadership battles at the centenary conference of the African National Congress (ANC) in December 2012 will be shaped by a set of confusing variables and constant shifts in the balance of forces and support and, to some extent, by what will happen to Julius Malema and other leaders of the Youth League.
Another thing to remember is that the charges laid against Malema and other leaders of the Youth League and, therefore, the disciplinary process itself, are but one dimension of a multidimensional political battle. The broader political battle is itself about the achievement of competing and conflicting political, policy, leadership and economic objectives.
However, what may be more important, at the end of the day, is the manner in which the battle is lost and won. It is for this reason that a stalemate may, objectively, be the most desirable outcome for the party. A stalemate, or the uncertainty of the major factions about the outcome and, therefore, the desire to minimise losses and maximise opportunities in such a constrained political environment, may deliver a compromise, which itself may limit the damage suffered by the party.
But the possibility of such a settlement depends on the size of the nonaligned group and whether it will be able to remain independent until December next year. The problem is that the nonaligned group is not a monolith and, therefore, the interests of the different nonaligned groups may converge, or diverge, to the advantage or disadvantage of the protagonists. In a scenario in which their interests converge, they may coalesce into a faction with interests that are in conflict with those of the major factions.
In other words, the nonaligned groups may become a major faction if those who are aligned or opposed to President Jacob Zuma see an advantage in the attachment of their political resources to the nonaligned group. The idea of a nonaligned group does not, however, suggest moral purity and disinterestedness. Whether a better and stronger ANC emerges from a realign- ment of forces will depend on the domi- nant values and objectives behind the realignment. No matter how the different forces are aligned, the opportunity to start the process of arresting further qualitative declines in the ANC will be in existence until ANC branches’ delegates gather at the 2012 ANC conference, in Mangaung.
If all the warring factions develop a deep fear for destroying the ANC through their strategies, tactics and actions, there is always the chance that this common fear might pull the party from the brink of disaster. For now, I am not going to risk suffocation by holding my breath. I am afraid that what lies ahead may still be a bitter battle aimed at the complete destruction of political opponents with no regard whatsoever for the collateral damage that may be caused to the ANC and the country. The possibility is that, if the founding mothers and fathers of the ANC were to rise from their graves, what they would find is the restless soul of what they knew as the ANC in the Hades of that postapartheid politics of self-aggrandisement.
On that optimistic note, let me be my reductionist self and turn my attention to the battle between Malema and the President. As I said, the disciplinary hearing is part of a broader political battle. Further, I believe that, to Zuma and his supporters, the outcome of the disciplinary process is, in relation to objectives that must be achieved in the short term, becoming increasingly irrelevant.
The President and his supporters surely know that the battle in the disciplinary hearing might only be concluded at the national conference in 2012. In short, Malema, as a political obstacle, must be removed before the disciplinary process runs its full course. This means that, even if he is still a member of the ANC in December 2012, he must lose his position as president of the Youth League through means other than expulsion by the disciplinary committee. One option is to put in place an interim leadership core that, hopefully, will not be hostile to the President and his supporters.
The problem for Malema is that there might be many in the leadership of the ANC who care less about what happens to him and much more about whether Zuma is re-elected in Mangaung or not. For his part, Zuma must not confuse any antipathy towards Malema and the Youth League as support for him, in the same way that Malema must not confuse unhappiness about the President with support for him and the Youth League. The rest must remember that, in poli- tics, friendship may be a matter of contextual bonding and ephemeral common interests. But leave room for the possibility that I may be hopelessly wrong about all this.