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Youth League now unlikely to influence ANC leadership, policy battles

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Youth League now unlikely to influence ANC leadership, policy battles

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi speaks about the upcoming ANC national conference in Mangaung. Camera: Nicholas Boyd. Editing: Darlene Creamer.

27th February 2012

By: Aubrey Matshiqi

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Are plans for the re-enactment of the 1949 national conference of the African National Congress (ANC) still on track?

If they are, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema will probably not be cast in the leading role. In fact, there is a possibility that he will be reduced to an extra and will, therefore, watch the drama from the sidelines.

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On the other hand, is there any point in writing about Malema and the ANC, given the fact that the world is supposedly coming to an end this December. Maybe this should be my last sentence on ANC internal battles. In case this turns out to be another false prophesy about the end of the world, I need to explain, albeit briefly, why Malema and the Youth League want President Jacob Zuma to sing the 1949 Blues.

To cut a long story short, two things happened at the 1949 conference. Firstly, AB Xuma, who had rejected proposals from the Youth League for a radical shift in political strategy and tactics, was booted out of the presidency of the ANC. Secondly, the Youth League won the battle for the radicalisation of the ANC and the strategic change in direction altered the course of South African history. The outcome of the 1949 conference set in train events that led to the defiance and pass campaigns of the 1950s, the Sharpville massacre and the banning of the ANC in 1960 and the formation of Umkhonto WeSizwe in 1961.

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While the context is that of a democratic South Africa, Malema and the Youth League have set themselves the twin objectives of radicalising the content of economic policy and the removal of Zuma as ANC president. If the balance of forces and support in the ANC stays the same, they will achieve neither. The possibility, therefore, is that it is Malema and his supporters who will be singing the blues.

With the appeals committee having upheld Malema’s conviction by the disciplinary com- mittee of the ANC on charges of bringing the party into disrepute and sowing division, will the Youth League be able to play a critical role in policy and leadership battles in the period leading up to the Mangaung conference? In fact, will there be any policy and leadership battles at all?

We cannot rule out the possibility that the battle for Mangaung will end up being what in Zulu is called umlilo wamaphepha (paper fire), which burns with impressive ferocity but does so for a very short time. With Malema out of the picture, a leadership vacuum caused by the neutralisation of Malema, the fracturing of the remaining leadership and strategic and tactical differences may undermine the capa- city of the Youth League to influence the outcome of leadership and policy battles.

On the policy front, it seems the nationalisation debate is dying a slow death. That notwithstanding, it is clear that the ANC will be pushing for a redetermination of the terms of engagement between the mining sector and the State. The debate is gravitating towards defining the extent of State involvement in the mining sector and the adoption of a mix of rent-seeking measures.

Therefore, the political battle will most probably be more interesting than the policy battle. There is a strong possibility of a decoupling of support for Malema from attempts to unseat the President. In other words, those who have developed an antipathy towards Zuma, and had hoped that Malema would be their vehicle to this end, may elect to align themselves with anti-Malema factions that seek to limit Zuma to a single Presidential term. The problem, however, is that they still do not have a candidate to challenge the President.

The leadership battle will either be a damp squib or a challenger will emerge 11 hours 59 minutes before the presidential election in Mangaung. We should not rule out the possibility of a challenger flying under the radar until he is nominated from the floor at the conference. If this scenario applies to the party’s deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, then he has some strategic and tactical options to consider. If the Malema disciplinary matter is put on the agenda of the ANC’s national executive committee, Motlanthe may choose to keep quiet and run the risk of alienating those who want him to run against Zuma. On the other hand, he can alienate them by taking an unambiguous stand against Malema and win the support of the anti-Malema and anti-Zuma camps.

Alternatively, Motlanthe may choose to be coy with his suitors in the hope that appearances of neutrality will deliver maximum benefits in Mangaung.

But we must always make room for a Black Swan scenario on both the policy and political fronts. Ten months is a very long time in South African and ANC politics.

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