It is now common knowledge that Julius Malema, has been found guilty of sowing division within the ANC and has been expelled from the party. Looking at the simple facts of the disciplinary hearings and the punitive measures that were meted out, one is left with a series of questions, that deserve further exploration at least, even if they cannot be fully answered: what series of events and/or circumstances led to the ANC taking the unprecedented step of charging the ANCYL leadership, bringing them before a disciplinary committee and eventually expelling the ANCYL president, something which has never happened before to a sitting ANCYL president? Could the whole situation have been handled differently? Was the disciplinary process just and fair? What will future generations say, when they look back at this extraordinary period in the political life of our beautiful country?
In order to get a better understanding of the context within which these unprecedented events have occurred, one needs to look at the historical nature of the relationship between the ANC and the ANCYL. The ANCYL is the youth organ of the ANC, whose main objective and chief mandate, is to mobilise the youth of South Africa behind the vision of the ANC, which is to, “create a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.” Since its formation, the ANCYL has always existed as an autonomous structure within the ANC, allowed to develop and implement its own programmes, convene its own congresses and administrate itself. So historically, there has always been the understanding that the ANCYL is an autonomous, but not an independent part of the ANC. As the ANC constitution states, “the Youth League will function as an autonomous body within the overall structure of the ANC, of which it will be an integral part, with its own constitution, rules and regulations, provided that these shall not be in conflict with the constitution and policies of the ANC.” This autonomy, which is guaranteed within the ANC constitution, is a political necessity, if the ANCYL is indeed going to be able to fulfil its historical mandate, part of which is to radicalise and re-energise the ANC, given the fiery and militant character of most youth.
When the ANCYL was founded in 1944, its founding generation, consisting of the likes of: O.R Tambo, Congress Mbata, Lancelot Gama, William Nkomo, Nelson Mandela, Lionel Majombozi, James Njongwe, A.P Mda, David Bopape, Anton Lembede, Jordan Ngubane etc, betrayed the same militancy, vibrancy and urgency that we see in this current ANCYL generation, took a position that was different from the sitting ANC president at that time and advocated for radical policy change in the battle against Apartheid, yet the ANC leadership at that time, did not respond in the manner that the current leadership has, to its youth formation. Why such a huge discrepancy in reaction and response, between the ANC leadership at that time and the current ANC leadership?
To answer this question, one has to look at the political and organisational environment within which the charges against the ANCYL leadership where brought. As Frantz Fanon said, in his famous book, The Wretched of the Earth, “each generation must discover its mission, fulfil or betray it, in relative capacity.”Julius Malema and this ANCYL generation, have correctly identified the issue of the structural transformation of the South African economy in order to ensure the greater participation of its impoverished black majority, as the main challenge facing the country, and their solution has been to propose nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industries as well as the expropriation of land without compensation as the mechanisms by which to kick-start this much needed structural transformation. So the ANCYL has taken the lead in challenging the economic status quo in South Africa, something which is an obvious necessity, whether you agree with the ANCYL’s proposed tactics or not. As a result of being on the forefront of the economic struggle, the ANCYL and its leadership have been ostracised, vilified and ridiculed by the mainstream media, which has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, given the well publicised nature of its ownership structures. These constant attacks on the ANCYL leadership by the media and other formations within society have influenced certain ANC leaders to start believing that the ANCYL and its leadership are problematic, a stumbling block and hence need to be silenced and/or removed. This is part of the reasons why the unprecedented step was taken, to charge the ANCYL’s leadership, leading to the expulsion of Julius Malema.
The ANCYL has been setting the agenda and leading the discourse within South African society for a while now. This has obviously rubbed certain ANC leaders up the wrong way, so the disciplinary measures that have been taken against its leaders, were meant to silence its leadership, especially Julius Malema, who is seen as a problem and a rabble rouser. To use the words of Roberts Liardon, “when you come across a radical person, you are either provoked to do more or you criticise them and defend where you’re at.” Julius Malema and this ANCYL generation have been very radical in their calls for the transformation of the South African economy, primarily through nationalisation and expropriation without compensation. Instead of responding to this radicalism by “doing more” in order to ensure the greater participation of the poor black majority, the ANC leadership and South African society have responded by “criticising them, defending the status quo” and trying to completely expel and expunge them from the public space. In doing this, what many have missed, is the fact that, at the previous ANC NGC, there were clear calls coming from circles other than the ANCYL, for the ANC to take a more radical stance towards transforming the South African economy. Even from outside the ANC, amongst the black middle class and intelligentsia, there is growing frustration with the slow pace of change, in terms of transforming the South African economy, so whether they silence Malema and the current ANCYL leadership or not, the issues that they are raising will not go away and at some point in time, bold leadership will be needed in order to take the revolutionary steps that are needed, to structurally transform South Africa’s economy.
Added to that, is the overarching reality of the upcoming ANC elective conference at Mangaung in December 2012. It is a well known fact that the youth have been agitating for leadership change, without in any way compromising the electoral traditions and culture of the ANC, and as a result the leadership of the ANC chose to take the disciplinary route, whilst neglecting its political responsibility and obligation to guide the ANCYL and its leadership, where it felt they might have erred. Looking at the disciplinary hearings themselves, it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that the outcome of the hearings was pre-determined and influenced by the political dynamics already discussed, rather than genuine concerns about discipline. Malema was charged for and found guilty of saying that the African agenda had suffered since Thabo Mbeki left the presidency. In his recent, best-selling book, former aide in the Presidency, Frank Chikane, a seasoned ANC leader, categorically states that he believes that the African agenda has suffered since Thabo Mbeki left the Union Buildings. The ANC leadership have taken no disciplinary steps against Chikane, as a member of the ANC, for making this statement. Why the inconsistency? Malema was also charged and found guilty for making a statement, which amounts to one of the resolutions of the recent ANCYL conference held at Gallagher Estate, that the ANCYL would seek to consolidate and assist, in a democratic manner, progressive opposition forces in Botswana, in order to help protect and advance the African agenda. Since when has this type of declaration been anti-ANC and a violation of its constitution? On careful examination, the spurious charges that where brought against Malema and the ANCYL leadership, can be seen to be nothing more than a ploy to get rid of a young man who had become an irritant, not just to the ANC but to South African society at large, because of his penchant for raising uncomfortable issues, though admittedly not always in the most tactful, diplomatic manner. Mainstream South African society has hypocritically chosen to deliberately overlook and ignore the inconsistencies, lack of fairness and justice in the disciplinary process and conviction of Malema and his executive, all because it has guaranteed the removal of someone who is seen as a threat to “their comfortable way of life” and the reality is that, this may come back to haunt us as a society one day, because the critical issues raised, are not being sufficiently addressed.
Julius Malema is not perfect. He has done and said many things in the past for which he deserved some kind of corrective censure from the ANC and its leadership, however the charges for which he has been tried, found guilty and expelled from the ANC where clearly part of a political agenda, that had as its end goal, either his silencing, neutralisation or complete removal from the public political space. This reminds one of those famous words uttered by a young, fiery Fidel Castro, when he was tried and jailed by the brutal, unjust Batista regime in Cuba, which he ended up overthrowing, “condemn me, it does not matter, history will absolve me.” People say Malema and the ANCYL, could have conducted themselves in a better manner. I wouldn’t disagree with that. Some say he should have been more diplomatic. Difficult to make a judgement on that one, because, as Susan Anthony said, “cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards, never bring about reform.” Malema and this ANCYL generation set their sights on bringing about fundamental reform in SA society. This would obviously rub many people up the wrong way and create many enemies. Love them or hate them, disagree with their tactics or not, one has to say that, when the events of the disciplinary hearings of Julius Malema and the current ANCYL leadership are reviewed by future generations, history may well look upon them more kindly, than their contemporaries have. After all, it is a fact of life that, the judgement of your peers and contemporaries, is not always the judgement of history. History is filled with examples of people who were praised and exalted in their era, only to be treated with disdain and contempt by future generations, as well as people who were ostracised, vilified and dismissed in their era, only to be accorded hero-status by future generations.