Monster the ANC created will be with us for some time yet
Julius Malema cannot be wished away with the stroke of a committee's pen
WHEN he drew to the close of his lengthy speech in the large marquee on the lawns of the University of the North on that December day in 2007, then-president Thabo Mbeki cast his eyes five years forward.
He wondered out loud what sort of organisation the ANC - which had been rocked by a power struggle at the very top, internecine battles in lower structures and was gripped by greed - would be in 2012.
"I pose the question ... does the ANC have the will and capacity to lead our country and people over the next five years in a manner that will enable the nation to celebrate our centenary in 2012 together, paying heartfelt tribute to our movement?"
Urging the delegates to honestly discuss the problems bedevilling the organisation, he appealed for unity.
"On that day, we must be able to stand together as a united movement for revolutionary change, confident that the heroes and heroines who perished for our liberation and placed in our hands this irreplaceable repository of the hopes and aspirations of the masses of our people, the African National Congress," he said.
This week Mbeki must have surely pulled deeply on his pipe and taken a stiff gulp of Scotland's finest as he watched Julius Malema crush the hopes of a stable centenary year.
He must have thought that he should have realised, as he was delivering his speech in Polokwane, that this was just a pipe dream. By the time he spoke on that opening day, the conference had already degenerated into chaos as he and his fellow officials were booed, heckled and insulted by supporters of his rival, Jacob Zuma.
The ANC's war with itself has not stopped for a second since that day. The events of the recent past were just a natural regression.
So when Malema waved his fists and bared his teeth at Zuma this week, it was not the idle threat that many have characterised it as.
For the sake of our own collective comfort we have moved too fast to write Malema off as a spent force. Sure, he will be put through the shredder of ANC and state political power over the next 12 months or so. But in the process the shredder itself will be severely damaged.
Before we go further we need to dispense of the notion in some circles that Malema was a creation of the media and that he would have been nothing without the oxygen our tribe gave him.
That is totally fallacious. The ANC built Malema, from the time he was a student activist with a penchant for rowdiness and disruption to the time he received Zuma's blessing as "indeed a good leader" who was "worthy of inheriting the ANC".
The ANC nursed and nurtured the creature. Perhaps Zuma and his lieutenants believed Malema would be like those irritating green flies that land on your food in unhygienic neighbourhoods. And that he would be okay so long as he landed on other people's plates.
But instead he grew into the monster we now know, a Malema the public could not ignore. He inherited a well-oiled and battle-ready organisation from Fikile Mbalula, who had used the ANC Youth League to ram Mbeki out of power.
Malema, well aware of the power of the league, finessed (if one can use that word in Malema's case) his own political style.
The combination of his populist appeal, his usefulness to certain ANC factions and his opportunism enabled him to wield power beyond his age.
Everyone, except the president who bragged that "the ANC recognises talent and leadership and we give people an opportunity", was aware of the danger ages ago.
With Malema having grown into a monster that now had no respect for its master, the ANC had to act. His ill-discipline was infecting not only the ranks of the league but the entire organisation. The chaotic culture which had been encouraged by pre-Polokwane defiance of Mbeki's leadership now had a face.
Malema was fracturing society with racial rhetoric. Investors were factoring in his utterances when making multibillion-dollar decisions.
Now the ANC thinks it can wish him away with the stroke of a disciplinary committee's pen. That is simply not going to happen. Malema has a strong base in the youth l eague. The uncertainties of the ANC conference year will mean some powerful figures will think twice before ditching him completely. Those with whom he shared in unsavoury activities will still give him notes and coins.
And, very crucially, some marginalised section of our population whose cause he hypocritically championed will not just walk away from him simply because they were told to do so.
In time his support will evaporate, but it will take a lot of political grind. There will be pain, which will be felt by all of us, not just the organisation that nurtured him. So for now, the champagne should stay on ice. Malema is with us still.