So, I finally found out why Julius Malema is cross with me

08 July 2018 - 00:00
EFF leader Julius Malema says a group of journalists are acting as a mob against his party.
EFF leader Julius Malema says a group of journalists are acting as a mob against his party.

Ahmed Kathrada's memorial service at the Johannesburg City Hall on April 1 2017 was thick with emotion and segued into a 1980s-style activist rally. Pravin Gordhan, who together with his then deputy Mcebisi Jonas had packed up their desks at the National Treasury the day before, was the main speaker.

He gave a rousing address, telling the crowd: "I am unashamedly encouraging mass mobilisation."

It was a tumultuous week, climaxing in a midnight cabinet reshuffle that was the tipping point in the Jacob Zuma presidency. Opposition political leaders began planning a motion of no confidence to remove Zuma from office.

There was, finally, alarm in the ANC about state capture, with three of the then top six leaders speaking out against Zuma's decision to fire Gordhan and Jonas.

Some ANC and alliance leaders began talks, drawing in the EFF's Floyd Shivambu, on how Zuma could be removed. They needed to agree on a candidate acceptable to all parties who could step into Zuma's position.

At the memorial service I heard that there was to be another consultation that very night. I then bumped into EFF chairman Dali Mpofu in the hall. We spoke about the heady events of that week, Gordhan's fiery speech, and I then asked about the negotiations.

EFF leader Julius Malema was apparently dead set against Cyril Ramaphosa, so the parties had to come up with a pool of candidates from the ANC caucus in parliament. The EFF was also not in favour of National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete.

I told Mpofu they could always choose Gordhan, seeing that he did not have a job. We laughed at the irony of Gordhan getting fired by Zuma and then replacing him.

I was rather surprised to hear that this conversation came up during an EFF media briefing on Thursday at which Malema accused me of being part of a mob of journalists protecting Ramaphosa. He also said that I was not a journalist but a politician as I had told Mpofu to make Gordhan president.

It was bizarre that an innocuous discussion with Mpofu was weaponised, so I tried to establish from Malema the exact nature of his grievance. For weeks, I had been accused of being part of a mob protecting Indian racists, so I was also mystified as to how this had suddenly become about Ramaphosa. On Friday, Malema called me to discuss the matter. It appears he had no objection to any of my articles, but was angry about journalists' tweets. He said we mock and "subtweet" the EFF leadership.

Malema also said that while we were not critical of Ramaphosa, we had taken the EFF to task for, among other things, its position on the commission of inquiry into SARS.

I asked Malema what he perceived as unfair about the inquiry, headed by a judge probing governance and administration at SARS, when the tax authority was clearly underperforming. The under-collection of R50-billion should surely be of national concern, considering the implications for the fiscus.

Malema said his worry was that the SARS commissioner Tom Moyane was prejudiced by facing this inquiry as well as his own disciplinary process. He said this appeared to be "double jeopardy", the same argument made by Mpofu when he asked Judge Robert Nugent to scrap his inquiry.

Putting aside the blurred lines between Mpofu's brief and the EFF press conference, is Moyane being treated unfairly, considering that Ramaphosa announced the SARS inquiry in February, a month before he suspended the commissioner?

Malema says the inquiry should have been put on hold until Moyane's disciplinary process was complete and then, based on the outcome, Nugent could complete his work. He said the evidence presented to Nugent so far had been mostly about Moyane and was therefore unfair to him.

Nugent has made a rather scathing rebuttal of Mpofu's submission, which makes the same argument as Malema.

But we have to ask what good reason there is for indefinitely suspending an examination of the functioning of a crucial institution until an individual's disciplinary process reaches a conclusion. Secondly, how was anyone to anticipate what would be presented to the Nugent inquiry and said about Moyane?

Even if these were all legitimate concerns, why is Malema so enraged and personally vested in the issue? Surely the matter can be argued rationally - or even petitions made on behalf of Moyane if he is being prejudiced?

But there is something lopsided about this whole affair.

And what is the remedy?

If the group of journalists Malema says are acting as a mob against the EFF had to stop work, or were "burnt alive with a necklace like all Stratcom agents", as proposed by his supporters on Twitter, would this alter how the Moyane issue unfolds?

Would fortune sway against Ramaphosa?

Or would it just mean that the number of questions being asked about SARS, the tobacco underworld, the Public Investment Corporation and VBS Mutual Bank would be reduced?

I forgot to ask Malema on Friday how the media would operate if he is elected president next year. I must remember to do so at his next media briefing.