IN SEPTEMBER 2008, then African National Congress (ANC) Youth League president Julius Malema addressed a jubilant crowd outside the Pietermaritzburg high court. A few moments earlier, Judge Chris Nicholson had pronounced that there may have been some interference by the executive in the corruption trial of President Jacob Zuma.
Malema told the ecstatic crowd that the time had come for the national executive committee of the ANC to recall then president Thabo Mbeki.
In case the members of the committee were not listening attentively, Malema added that if the committee failed to heed his call, it would itself have to be recalled. By the time the Supreme Court of Appeal rejected the reasoning of the Nicholson judgment, Mbeki was a former head of state.
Mbeki’s demise was precipitated by a rebellion against his leadership that started soon after his decision to axe Zuma as deputy president of the country in June 2005.
An important element of the rebellion was the climate of indiscipline, factionalism and lack of leadership of which roots are sinking ever deeper into the soul of the ANC.
Had it not been for the fact that Mbeki and those around him had already lost control of the ANC, Malema would have been charged with bringing the ANC into disrepute for calling on the national executive committee to fire Mbeki or face being fired.
Added to this was the fact that Mbeki’s crisis of isolation within the ANC coincided with the political reality that Zuma and the anti-Mbeki rebellion were benefiting from a climate of indiscipline that had become one of the dominant features of the battle for Polokwane. Julius Malema was the eye of that storm of indiscipline.
But, by the end of August last year, the containment of Malema had become an imperative for the ANC to the extent that he, and the youth league under his leadership had, in the eyes of some inside and outside the ANC, become a threat to the image of both the party and the country. However, his expulsion from the ANC as a containment strategy proved to be a blunt weapon.
Then came the Marikana tragedy of August 16, the worst day in the lives of the victims and a blessing in disguise for Malema in his incarnation as Zuma’s self-styled arch enemy and archangel of the poor and downtrodden of this country.
Is this why Malema will probably be charged with tax evasion, corruption, fraud and money laundering this week, following the issuing of a warrant for his arrest at the end of last week?
The irony of his imminent arrest is not lost on the nonpartisan.
For the partisan, the judicial process should start with sentencing and nothing less than wracking and quartering would be good enough for the likes of Malema.
While the nonpartisan can be found on both sides of the Malema argument, the partisan come in two varieties.
There are those who believe that the president and his lieutenants are using state institutions against political enemies.
The second variety does not need evidence of Malema’s guilt.
I am of the variety that is convinced that some manipulation of state institutions did occur in the five years leading up to the installation of Zuma as head of state.
But I am even more convinced that the manipulation was perpetrated in the interests of both Mbeki and Zuma.
What is important, though, is the fact that, until May 2009, Zuma, like Malema, was a private citizen.
Because all of us, including those among us who pretend otherwise, have partial access to the total political reality of which Malema’s trial will form part, none of us should pretend that we know the truth about Malema’s innocence or guilt.
When it comes to the charges themselves, and the allegation of the abuse of state institutions to neutralise political enemies, the best I can offer is to remind the nation that absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence. What may become even more important to remember at some point in the evolution of the Malema saga is that, as we say in Xhosa, there are times when the victim (Malema or Zuma) is actually cut by his own knife. Furthermore, the best way of insulating oneself against the manipulation of investigative, prosecutorial and judicial processes is to avoid committing crime, especially if one is a protagonist in ANC internal battles.
On the other hand, allegations of corruption may catapult one to the presidency of the ANC and of the country.
But Malema is neither a member of the ANC nor a presidential candidate. Zuma had the capacity to mobilise against the state and his political enemies in the ANC. Does Malema have the same capacity? We’ll see, won’t we?
• Matshiqi is a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation.