The next general election is approximately a year away, and already the campaign season has started, albeit slowly. It will be a crucial one for opposition parties, since their erstwhile main issue, the presidency of Jacob Zuma, has since expired.
By many accounts, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s style of leadership and the trajectory of his administration, are proving to be a nightmare for opposition parties, the EFF included. While its leader, Julius Malema, can take some credit for turning the screws on the ANC, which finally booted Zuma, Ramaphosa does not give him the relevance Zuma gave him.
Malema is fresh from a coup last week, which saw him being one opposition leader to get an opportunity to address the funeral service of liberation stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The event was an official funeral, and not a party political occasion.
His eulogy at the funeral spawned a powerful Twitter hashtag, which spread beyond the borders of South Africa. Even in Swaziland, people were tweeting about the “Malema challenge” and adapting it to their vexing local issues. Such is Malema’s oratory power.
While still a hero to many, the Afrikaner pressure group AfriForum has decided to bring a private prosecution against Malema. The timing could not be better for Malema, and the EFF. The announcement sustains his political momentum.
With the official AfriForum position explained at its media conference on Thursday, the timing of the group’s decision still sounds dubious. Nothing has apparently happened of late to lend credibility to the timing of AfriForum’s announcement that it would prosecute Malema.
The alleged crimes were committed several years ago, during Zuma’s rule, Malema’s nemesis and a man who could never be accused of politically shielding the EFF leader from prosecution.
Speculation is already rife that AfriForum is going after Malema to shut him down, together with his inconvenient rhetoric of expropriation of land without compensation. It is also plausible that AfriForum has lately been discomfited by Malema’s racially charged statements against Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip.
Whatever the real motive is for the envisaged AfriForum prosecution, it will be Malema and the EFF that will likely reap its political rewards. Even if the man was not the adept political player that he is, the timing on its own makes him a victim in the eyes of many black people, and it gives him plenty of political mileage.
Malema turns almost everything thrown at him to his political advantage. Where he can’t spin an issue successfully, he deflects and points the news cycle elsewhere.
It is difficult to imagine a situation where AfriForum can win a propaganda battle against Malema, who appears to be good at strategic and tactical thinking. With all their explanations, AfriForum and Gerrie Nel, the private prosecutor, are set to concede the aerial battle to the red berets.
There are many cases where the NPA declines to prosecute, or drags its feet, much against public opinion. AfriForum has not taken up many of those cases. Where the group sets its sights on privately prosecuting, there is usually a political gain to be made, against the ANC or the EFF.
With public opinion suggesting that Malema’s prosecution has to do with the land issue, the waters get muddier. AfriForum is not the right organisation to take a leading role on the question of land, and the envisaged expropriation without compensation. In fact, the group’s involvement in the issue serves mostly to cloud it. AfriForum has positioned itself as a defender of interests of white, Afrikaans-speaking South Africans.
The land issue is not a black and white matter. Most white South Africans don’t own any land that could be the subject of expropriation. The only land they own is where their dwellings and businesses are built. This does not make them any different to the average black middle-class person who owns a home and a business.
The fact that the majority of private land owners are white does not make white people victims of the proposed policy. Such perceptions are perpetuated by AfriForum and its ilk. Malema himself, is of late, lacing his political rhetoric with perceived racial epithets, further complicating matters.
What AfriForum has achieved, in the short term, is to give Malema an issue to piggyback his party’s election campaign on. All indications are that the land issue will be at the centre of many political campaigns on both sides of the debate.
Recently, the DA ratcheted up the land issue, with messaging suggesting that the governing ANC wanted to take away white-owned properties.
With the matter being subject to election contests, it is more likely to divide than unite the country, in the short to medium term. The biggest losers, ironically, will be the parties that are perceived to be against land redistribution.
With corruption out of the way as an election issue, the land question will most likely tilt the scales in favour of the ANC and the EFF.
The black middle class, which may have been attracted to the DA, and its black leader Mmusi Maimane, may find the party to represent “white interests” and see Ramaphosa as a better option, compared to Maimane.
The support Malema was attracting outside of his party support base following his spirited campaign against Zuma, may be boosted by the land issue he is currently championing. Added to that may well be the sympathy vote from those disgusted by AfriForum. They are many.
BY MAKHOSINI NKOSI
The Sunday Independent