IT was the week that the theatre of the absurd played itself out on television screens across the country.
In the dock sat the ANC Youth League’s Julius Malema. He was being questioned, goaded and baited by an assortment of angry men with a palpably poor grasp of South African history.
They wished to prove to the court that Malema had intended to incite violence by singing a traditional struggle song including the line “shoot the boer”.
They must have imagined they would have it easy. A few pokes of the stick and Malema would lose it, breathing fire at the judge, the judiciary, the courts and their clients.
They were wrong. There is the Malema of the mass gathering — the populist who knows how to stoke up the fires of anger — and then there is the cunning politician, who calculates, charms and expresses himself with candour and seriousness.
Much to the horror of the counsel for Afriforum — the organisation bringing a charge of hate speech against Malema — it was the charmer who sat in the dock.
Malema would not be goaded. He adopted a sympathetic, slightly patronising attitude as he explained to his interrogators the history and meaning of the ANC’s songs.
As a court case, it sucked. As a reality television show, it gripped the nation.
It might have been given the title: “Can You Keep It In: The show where people you loathe try to get you to lose your cool.”
Beyond the farce of the television experience were more layers of absurdity.
There was the absurdity of someone having to justify the singing of a song before a court of law in a country where freedom supposedly reigned.
There the was the absurdity of Malema and the ANC’s leadership — advocates of statutory controls over the media and the “protection” of government information — now offering po-faced arguments for the unfettered freedom of expression because, they argued, the nation was mature enough to handle it.
What is clear is that somewhere along the path to freedom, this nation has taken a wrong turn.
Julius Malema has made statements that are outrageous and hurtful. He showed poor political judgment by singing the “Shoot the boer” lyrics at a time when there were so many farm killings.
He has been widely criticised for doing so — even by the ANC.
But making the singing of a song a matter of law is a grave mistake. It opens the door for the courts to scrutinise and rule on the acceptability of public utterances.
Today it will be “Shoot the boer”, tomorrow it will be commenting that “the minister is a corrupt, idiotic buffoon”.
In an open society, matters of public taste belong in the court of public opinion.
The developing culture of regulation and litigation will suffocate free expression with ghastly costs in the long term.
We will become a society where what can or cannot be said is decided by who has the most lawyers and the most money. We don’t want to go there.
*this is a draft leader for the Sunday Times
THE disintegration of the ruling ANC’s alliance with Cosatu and, to a lesser extent, the SACP, continues to gather momentum. Is it good or bad for the country?
The argument can be made that the end of the alliance would lead to a breakdown in social cohesion as the lid is opened on a
viscous vicious contest between left and right.
The past two weeks might well have given South Africans a bitter foretaste of a future of protracted labour action which becomes dangerously politicised. It is not hard to picture the full might of organised labour unleashed on the state without the restraint of the alliance.
But would it have to end badly?
There is the possibility that the release of these tensions, which have been kept behind closed doors with diminishing effectiveness, into the public domain might be just the tonic for our moribund political institutions.
An open contest at the polls between a left-leaning labour movement and a realigned center would offer South Africans the political choice that they are presently denied by the continuation of the Alliance.
The political competition that would result would force parties to sharpen their policies and throw out unelectable leaders. They would have to measure every word against its consequences at the ballot box.
This would have a sobering effect on the national political debate which has deteriorated into an amusing but ultimately pointless exercise in chauvinist name-calling.
The nation got a glimpse of how political competition would sober up politics during the last election when Cope launched an assault on the ANC’s core constituency for the first time. Politicians were measured and the name-calling was kept to a minimum lest it offend potential voters. What was missing was any serious difference in policy between the ANC and Cope, which mimicked the ruling party’s “broad church” approach.
It would be different if a labour party were to stand against the ANC. In such a scenario there would be a clear distinction between the social-democratic left and the centrist nationalists. Voters would be making a choice that could result in a real difference to the way in which the country would be governed.
The ANC would have to think twice about allowing leaders to use public platforms to advocate nationalisation and land seizure without compensation as Youth League President Julius Malema did this week.
Helen Zille’s DA, which is going from strength to strength in the Western Cape, has showed how voters will choose one party over another based on their governance records if there is the real prospect of a change in government.
The DA would in all likelihood become a third “liberal” party in the national contest for power were the alliance to give way to open competition for power.
All of this remains academic as the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP continue to proclaim their loyalty to the alliance while privately plotting to diminish each other’s grasp on state power.
What is changing is the public perception of the alliance. There are few who continue to believe the love story when all they see is infidelity.
TODAY the Blue Bulls and the Stormers played the final of rugby’s Super 14 competition at Orlando stadium in Soweto. The match took place in the shadow of the intense symbolism of the Bulls semifinal game at the same stadium a week earlier.
The nation celebrated as tens of thousands of Blue Bulls supporters trekked to Soweto to share pap, vleis and Black Label beer with the locals. Urban legend already has it that, between them, Blue Bulls supporters and those who travelled to Soccer City to watch the Nedbank Cup final drank Soweto’s shebeens dry.
After the semifinal victory, Bulls captain Victor Matfield described the experience: “Loftus is our home, but this was amazing. It was a historical day … it was wonderful. Where can you go and experience vuvuzelas mixed with boeremusiek ?”
It was a ground-breaking moment for the sport of rugby, but it was much more than that. It was evidence of how South Africa’s new centre, comprised of people from all walks of life, all incomes and all races, not only share but practise the founding values of our society, which include nonracialism, fairness, equality of opportunity, justice and reconciliation.
Momentous though these events have been, to suggest that these people found each other for the first time on the streets surrounding Orlando stadium would be mistaken. The rugby games were merely the grand symbolic expression of what has already happened in South Africa over the past 16 years, at back-yard braais, over the water cooler at work, at PTA meetings, at school sports events and at places of worship.
Even as Matfield was leading his team to victory in the semifinal, another event of momentous significance was taking place in Durban: Julius Malema, the self-styled voice of aggressive militancy, took the podium at a provincial youth function to sing “kiss the boer” to enthusiastic, if bemused, delegates.
Malema’s new song may have seemed to be the spontaneous action of an unpredictable personality, but it, too, was evidence of the power of the centre.
The youth leader’s goading of Afrikaners with the “shoot the boer” song had won him national notoriety and had cemented his position as the leader of the ANC’s populist, perhaps even Africanist, lobby, which seeks to abandon nonracialism in favour of a “payback time” approach to the economy by, for example, nationalising the mines.
Malema’s new awareness of the blood-dimmed tide his words were evoking was not brought about by idle introspection. It was the product of the heavy hand of a displeased ANC leadership. They had benignly tolerated his rhetoric as it rose through the octaves, but when it reached its shrillest pitch in the days leading up to the (unrelated, as it turns out) murder of Eugene Terre Blanche, President Jacob Zuma finally turned on Malema.
He did so for one simple reason: Malema was achieving what opposition parties had failed to do: he was disillusioning those who had for decades supported the party. The adjective that Zuma attached to Malema’s extremism was “alien”.
Malema may or may not have come round to the fact that singing “kiss” will take him a lot further in politics than singing “shoot”. But he had best heed the words of the saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.
This is an old rule of thumb in South African politics. For close on a hundred years, successive ANC leaders have embraced nonracialism, building a “multiclass” mass movement with few peers anywhere in the world. Those who built organisations on racially exclusive tickets have always been condemned to the margins.
Is this wishful thinking ? Fortunately, we don’t need to guess at the size of that democratic centre because we have elections that measure its support against that of the racially exclusive left and right.
An under-reported fact of the 1994 election is the devastating blow it dealt to the PAC — until then held to be a momentous force of the Africanist Left — which garnered a mere 243478 votes, about 90000 fewer than the DA. The majority did not buy into its exclusionist approach. Nor did many buy into the agenda of the right wing. The Freedom Front of Constand Viljoen achieved only 424555 votes.
Sixteen years of democracy have further worn down support on the radical fringes. In the 2009 election, the PAC achieved a paltry 113512 votes, while the Freedom Front Plus was down to a mere 139465 votes.
Compare this with the well over 15 million votes given to the ANC, DA, IFP, UDM and other parties of the democratic centre, and you get the picture.
If anything, parties of the nonracial democratic centre are growing their market share, and there is, frankly, no other political game worth playing in local politics.
Why then, you might ask, does the attention given to the views of extremists of one or another hue, such as Terre Blanche or Malema, far exceed that warranted by the size of their support base?
The answer lies in a major misperception about the people who occupy the democratic centre as being powerless victims of political and economic overlords. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Members of this democratic centre have always successfully challenged those who seek to undermine the core values of the constitution. When these values are threatened, they react with outrage and make their feelings known.
Evidence of this is abundant. People such as those who read this newspaper are vocal when they see these values being challenged. They write letters, they phone in to radio talk shows, they go online, they vent their displeasure on Facebook and they pass around e-mails.
In so doing, they are not giving unwarranted attention to those who should be ignored. They are owning democracy and taking a stand against its erosion, using the channels open to them in a democratic society.
Parties such as the ANC, which tried to pretend that Malema’s utterances could simply be ignored, eventually found themselves with no choice but to act to restore credibility with the people of this democratic centre.
There have been many assaults on our foundation values over the past 16 years, and, some would argue, there are new threats on the horizon.
The objectives being pursued by those who want to depart from our core values read like school debating-society fare: the death penalty, abortion and property rights. Zuma has associated himself with some alarming socially conservative allies who wish to punch holes in constitutional liberties on these and other fronts.
These threats are real and may metastasize into deeds if they are left unchallenged.
The people who shared the joy of a rugby victory in Soweto and those who will sit together on the benches of our incredible World Cup stadiums are, ultimately, the true defenders of this democracy.
Many countries deserving of a bright future have faltered as their people have watched the trampling of the values of democracy in silence.
But this nation is shouting it out, and the message is clear: we are one nation united in defence of our values.
This weekend the Sunday Times reported how supporters of the ANC Youth League’s Julius Malema had begun a campaign against the promiscuity of President Jacob Zuma under the guise of an anti-Aids slogan “one girlfriend, one boyfriend”. More than one youth league leader spoke of the need for leaders who lived this message.
There can be no doubting that the league has decided it wants Zuma to be replaced as ANC leader at the 2012 conference, if not before.
But the decision to open up a new front against Zuma while still fighting in the trenches with the left, might be a mistake. Whoever they choose as a candidate to stand against Zuma will not have the backing of Cosatu, the SACP or those loyal to Zuma. That doesn’t leave very many standing.
And, you can be sure, Zuma will smile on the outside and be the reconciler, but the knife work will begin to diminish Malema’s influence, perhaps even remove him entirely from the organisation.
Malema may be the only one making the running in the party, but he does not yet have enough momentum to stand alone against the many enemies he is generating.
This is the full text of the apology that the ANC’s disciplinary hearing wants Julius Malema to issue to the organisation and the public at large:
I, Julius Malema, apologise to the President of the ANC and the Republic, comrade Jacob Zuma and to the membership of the African National Congress and the public in general for the statements and utterances that I made on 11 April 2010 at the ANC Youth League Limpopo Provincial Congress implying that the ANC Youth League has taken a position against the President of the ANC.
I accept that these statements had the effect of undermining the stature of the President of the African National Congress and of the Republic. It further may have had the effect of undermining the confidence of our people in the leadership of the ANC and of creating serious divisions and breakdown of unity in the organization.
I make this apology unconditionally as I accept that as a leader of the ANC and of the ANC Youth League my conduct and public utterances should at all times reflect respect and restraint. I accept one of the key principles of Congress leadership as outlined in Through the Eye of the Needle, a policy document adopted by the 51st and 52nd National Conferences of the ANC, that “an abiding quality of leadership is to learn from mistakes, to appreciate weaknesses and to correct them.”
I have learned from this mistake and therefore submit myself to the discipline of the ANC.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ON SAPA-PR-WIRE
OUTCOME OF THE ANC NATIONAL DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE ON THE HEARING OF COMRADE JULIUS MALEMA
On the 3 and 11 May 2010 the National Disciplinary Committee (NDC) of the ANC convened to consider charges against comrade Julius Malema (the Respondent). The charges had been brought by the National Officials of the African National Congress (the Complainant).
On 3 May 2010, the NDC heard and ruled on procedural matters presented on behalf of the Respondent.
The final NDC panel that heard the case consisted of cdes Derek Hanekom (chairperson), Ayanda Dlodlo and FÈbÈ Potgieter-Gqubule. Read More…
THE ANC Youth League’s Julius Malema has won round one of his battle with the ANC’s disciplinary committee by getting two adversaries removed from the panel.
Collins Chabane and Susan Shabungu, both of whom have publicly criticised Malema over earlier controversial public statements have recused themselves from the panel, removing some of its sting.
The ANC has finally formally confirmed what the Sunday Times reported two days ago – that its treasurer general, Mathews Phosa, will represent him in the hearing. The presence of Phosa and the absence of Chabane and Shabungu will give Malema heart and he is already reconsidering his blanket not guilty plea. He may contest the charge that he broke party discipline by cosying up to Robert Mugabe. His defence will be that the party has no policy to remain neutral on Zimbabwe.
When the committee reconvenes next Tuesday, expect Malema to have built up a little more confidence. Sparks will fly.
THE ANC has set the 5th of May as the date on which it will begin disciplinary proceedings against its errant youth leader, Julius Malema.
The charges revolve around Malema’s deliberate breech of an ANC instruction not to incite race tensions following the murder of Eugene Terre Blanche and his open support for Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
What is not immediately clear is just how committed the ANC is to imposing discipline on Malema.
A statement issued after the ANC’s top leadership met with the leadership of its youth league read: “The ANC has preferred charges against the ANC Youth League President, Cde Julius Malema. In this regard, we would like to restate that issues of discipline in the ANC belongs to the structures of the ANC and are therefore not matters of the public or the media.”
This request for privacy is wishful thinking by the ANC. The fact is that this matter is of great interest to all who wish to ascertain which path the ruling party intends leading the country down.
If it were to be phrased crudely, the question on the lips of the nation is this: Does our future belong to those who would like to nationalise the economy, support Robert Mugabe and stir up racial tensions or not?
The meeting between the leaders gave some insight into the answer to this question.
What is known is that the ANC’s secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, missed the bulk of the meeting with the league because he had to attend the graduation ceremony of one of his children.
The absence of Mantashe, both because of his official duties and his low tolerance for the likes of Malema, does not bode well for the disciplinary process.
Some accounts of the meeting suggest that the league mounted a defence of sorts — to the effect that Malema was speaking on behalf the the organisation and not off his own bat.
This would be an extraordinary step in any organisation as such discussion usually only takes place within the confines of the official proceedings.
Such a contribution ought to have been ruled out of order and reserved for the proceedings themselves.
When May 5 comes around, the country would like to see the ruling party re-establish order.
The ANC needs to decide on and vigorously pursue a value system that the majority of South Africans can buy into, one which is unequivocally against racism and intolerant of rabble-rousing populism.
This applies to the disciplinary hearing, but it also applies beyond the doors of Luthuli House.
The country expects government and the President to provide strong and clear leadership in an environment where there are challenges to the stability of the country.
For nearly a year now, the Presidency has played host to a Planning Minister, but no plan has yet emerged as Trevor Manuel appears caught in an endless cycle of consultations with parties who contest his authority.
Zuma must bring all of this uncertainty about the direction we are taking to an end by providing clear leadership and spelling out a vision for this country that we can all help achieve.
May 3 has been set as the date that Julius Malema will face an ANC “disciplinary hearing” chaired by deputy minister of science and technology
Deputy Agriculture Minister, Derek Hanekom. But what will happen at these proceedings is as clear as mud.
The facts which are uncertain are:
1. Whether or not Malema has been charged
Malema has apparently been presented with a letter outlining charges, but the ANC’s deputy secretary-general, Thandi Modise has outlined a different process. According to her the disciplinary committee will merely investigate whether or not charges ought to be brought against Malema.
2. Whether or not the ANC leadership backs the hearing
The meeting between the ANC leadership and the Youth League to discuss the hearing was, by all accounts an odd affair. ANC secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, believed to be the driving force behind the initiative to charge Malema left the meeting early to attend the graduation ceremony of one of his children. Surely the secretary general was in a position to foresee this clash and plan the meeting for a different time. Was he leaving early because he couldn’t stomach the back-peddling of his fellow leaders?
3. Why Hanekom was chosen to head up the disciplinary committee
Is it because Hanekom is a “boer” and therefore a credible person to try such a case? Or is it because Hanekom is sufficiently low down the political food chain for the outcome of his hearing to be ignored?
The ANC is in real danger of turning what could have been a short, sharp and decisive moment into a lengthy political circus which will create the impression that its leadership is too weak to directly confront a major problem.