Is the Marikana tragedy a turning point in the battle for the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC)? Specifically, is the tragedy a turning point for President Jacob Zuma? If it is, will former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema benefit the most from the tragic death of 44 people in Marikana?
What is interesting about these questions is the fact that they are all based on the assumption that Malema is going to be a critical player in the battle for Mangaung. In fact, these questions are also based on another assumption – that Malema is going to determine the outcome of the leadership battle between Zuma and whoever will be nominated by ANC structures to run against him.
While uncertainty remains the only certainty about Mangaung, there is no doubt that the decision by the ANC to expel Malema has not translated into an effective containment strategy. In fact, the ANC may be regretting the decision not to accept an offer Malema made to the ruling party a few months into his disciplinary hearing. This, I believe, is an offer he made to the disciplinary committee of the ANC because he was desperate to hold on to his membership of the ruling party. The last thing he wanted was to be expelled from the ANC – hence, the offer he made to relinquish all his leadership positions in the ANC and not to avail himself for any leadership position for a few years.
With the benefit of hindsight, and assuming that Malema would have kept his end of the bargain, accepting his offer would have constituted a better strategy of containment than the decision to expel him. As things stand now, Malema has become the Robin Hood of disgruntled miners at Marikana and beyond. The tombstones of the victims of the Marikana tragedy may become a solid foundation for his campaign against the President. And the fact that Malema is not a presidential candidate means that he has a lot less to lose than Zuma. It also means that the opponents of the President may end up doing less work and risking less than the President in their anti-Zuma campaigns, with Malema doing most of the damage to Zuma and his supporters.
But what Malema and other opponents of the President must never forget is the fact that, in Zuma, they are dealing with a wily fox and astute politician who has an intelligence background. Given this background, they must not make the mistake of thinking that State intelligence structures are his main source of intel- ligence about the strategies of his political opponents and enemies. My own assumption is that the intelligence and strategic capa- city of the President is located in a multi- plicity of State and non-State centres. In short, Malema must understand – and he probably does understand this – that he has chosen to do battle with another master of the disguised ‘klap’. The previous one was former President Thabo Mbeki. In the battle against Mbeki, Malema found himself on the winning side.
The problem, however, is that the side which won the battle of Polokwane has since fractured into several factions. This fracturing can work either to the advantage or disadvantage of the President. The disadvan- tage Zuma faces is the opposition of the different factions to the idea of giving him a second presi- dential term. The advantage is that they are still united behind a phantom candidate and may, therefore, spend too much time haggling over positions other than the presidency of the ANC.
Another problem is that Malema may turn out to be a figure that divides them more than they may have realised initially. In other words, their unity in opposition to the President should not be confused with unity over the role Malema should play in the campaign against Zuma. Some people in the ANC hate Zuma less than they hate Malema.
This brings me to three questions that Malema must address: First, are those who are opposed to Zuma going to gain more by aligning themselves with, or distancing themselves, from him? Second, given a choice between the reinstatement of Malema and a second term for Zuma, what is it that will be deemed more damag- ing by the opponents of the President? Third, can attempts at using the Marikana tragedy to undermine Zuma, on their own, tip the balance of support to the disad- vantage of the President?
At the end of the day, Malema must be alive to the possibility of a disjuncture between the level of support he can mobilise against Zuma outside the ANC and that which he can garner within the rank and file of the ANC. In the end, it is support inside the ANC, not in Marikana, that will matter the most.