SO, Julius Malema strides confidently into the midst of what we are told is a 7,000-strong band of armed and angry miners, and calms them down. “Malema takes charge!” exclaimed the front page headline of one of the better Sunday papers. Before him all power — the president, the police, the owners of the Marikana mine, Lonmin, and the great National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the very heart and soul of Cosatu — is swept away, scurrying to attend meetings and make declarations in safe Joburg.
Malema tells the crowd the reason police shot 34 people dead there last Thursday was because they were protecting Cyril Ramaphosa’s equity in Lonmin. It is a perfectly weighted attack. Ramaphosa is a former NUM leader. He is also head of the ANC disciplinary appeals committee that expelled Malema earlier this year. Has revenge ever been sweeter? Or easier? President Jacob Zuma, he tells the cheering crowd, protects the interests of English businessmen. Not the same businessmen he, Malema, has just been consorting with in London, but the bad kind.
Of course, it helps Malema that some of the men listening to him were convinced by a sangoma a few days earlier that if they let him smear some black powder into cuts on their foreheads they would become invincible. This is not necessarily a demanding audience.
Someone tweeted me yesterday, suggesting that at least one good thing about Zuma getting a second term as president would be that Malema would be kept out of the ANC. Maybe, but I reckon another five or seven years of a hapless Zuma at the helm is the very thing Malema needs to thrive politically, even outside the ANC. He even has his own union movement now. It’s called the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the slow but determined destroyer of the NUM.
In any normal democracy, a massacre by police of 34 people would occasion a political watershed. At the very least, the government of the day would fall. Not here. Here there’ll be an inquiry, the results of which may (subject to the proximity of internal ANC elections or general elections) be subject to presidential edit or “study”, applications for access to information and some sort of court action by the Democratic Alliance, which will trigger new executive threats to interfere with the judiciary. The enduring strength of the ANC has been its legitimacy. The majority trusted it to be there for them. It is why Thabo Mbeki was able to rule as conservatively as he did — pro-business even though his core constituency was poor.
What’s scary about Marikana is that, for the first time, for me, the fact that the ANC and its government do not have the handle they once did on the African majority has come home. The party is already losing the middle classes. If they are now also losing the marginal and the dispossessed, what is left? Ah yes, Cosatu and the communists — Zuma’s creditors. To misquote Winston Churchill: it’s not just the beginning of the end. It’s the end of the beginning of the end.
20 August 2012