Adapt or die: Malema vs. the Establishment

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Julius Malema is once again in a place from which he cannot lose. Once again, he is in a situation where it looks as if his back is against the wall, where he is being condemned by all “right-thinking” people. Once again, he has managed to dominate the news agenda, and, far more importantly, frame the question. How pleased he must be right now. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

On Tuesday the nation was treated once again to the spectacle of people led by Julius Malema trying to break into a place where they were not welcome. The scene this time was the Gauteng Legislature. The protest started at Park Station (a few blocks away from the more traditional starting ground of Mary Fitzgerald Square) and made its way to the Legislature building. Once there, somehow, those in red were able to overcome those in blue, and forced their way in. Chaos, pandaemonium, the usual Malema companions, ensued.

The official point of this protest was to mark the fact that the legislature was once again in session, but that those who represented the EFF within it were not allowed inside. This goes back to an earlier ruling by Gauteng Speaker Ntombi Mekgwe. She ruled that the red uniforms (you should know the ones by now) were part of party regalia, and broke the rules of that legislature. This has happened in the Eastern Cape as well. But it has not happened in the National Assembly, where the speaker there, Baleka Mbete, has a different set of rules, and a different way of interpreting them.

It is easy at this point to say that Malema was right to protest, right to march, and wrong to break into the actual building. It is also easy to point to the damage caused, and claim that this shows that the EFF is a bunch of thugs. It is also easy to say that this proves that Malema and the EFF need to grow up and learn how real grown-up politics works.

That would all be wrong. Like the rest of the Establishment, it would simply be a rejection of all that the EFF stands for. Which is, yes, Anti-Establishment.

It’s really very simple. Malema’s constituency, by and large, voted for him because they are unhappy with the current Establishment. They want change, and yes, they want it now. Malema’s message to them is that they voted for him. And now the people selected to represent them, to be their voice in Gauteng (where he got the highest number of votes, incidentally) are not allowed to do so because “they are not dressed like rich people”.

It is incredibly strong, powerful stuff. Essentially, Malema’s message now to his voters is that because we are not rich (Mercedes-Benz SLKs and Louis Vuitton man's loafers notwithstanding), we are not allowed to have a voice. We are not a part of this democracy. This democracy is only for the rich. Those who oppress us. Those who we work for and actually make rich.

We’ve suggested before that the Establishment is not handling Malema and the EFF well. That really what it should be doing is trying to make the leaders of the EFF feel like one of them, instead of trying to force them out. Forcing them out is the worst possible option, and this is what has now happened.

Because if you look at all the options here, how can it possibly go wrong for Malema? The Establishment, those who run the Legislature, those who are part of it, including opposition parties like the DA, can really only try to punish the EFF further. That is all they can do. And the EFF can simply shout “rich man’s justice”. And that’s a message that will always resonate with their base. Should a red-clad soul be criminally charged for what happened, there will be a massive case, they will have the services of Dali Mpofu (who is surely busier in court as a practicing politician than he ever was as a practicing advocate), and it will be a massive media spectacle. Malema is praying for that that to happen.

And then there’s the other option. Which would be for the Legislature to simply surrender. Let the EFF members back in, and get down to business.

However, it’s important to remember that Malema’s need for spectacle is such that even if there is such a climb-down (as humiliating as that would be for Mekwe, who is not necessarily the most popular of Gauteng ANC politicians), he would probably try to create another such incident. Indeed, if this hadn’t happened, he might have tried to provoke something else anyway with the same result.

The other point to make, and it’s a much more general and important point, is that it’s time for the ANC to seriously consider changing how the entire Speaker system works.

At the moment, in the National Assembly, and the legislatures that the ANC has a majority in, an ANC member is elected Speaker. That person then remains an ANC member, while also running the business of the house. This means that it is very easy to claim that they are not neutral. Especially when, as Mbete once did, you expel a member for simply asking whether Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is an alcoholic. While the DA may obey those rulings, because its voters feel that playing by the rules is a very important thing, the EFF is not going to.

And why should they?

The ill-feeling between them and the ANC is far worse than it is between the ANC and the DA. The EFF is a splinter of the ANC, and that kind of back-story always leads to more than strained relations. It is far more likely that an ANC speaker is going to rule against the EFF time and time again. And the Speaker has the power to effectively neutralise an MP if she really wants to. Should she decide to expel you from the House, you may have actually go to court to override that decision. And even Mpofu can’t be in two courts and an inquiry all at once.

It is incredibly easy to make the claim that the Speaker is obeying only the dictates of Luthuli House. Especially, especially when the Speaker in the National Assembly is not simply an ANC member, but is also the National Chair. One of the Top Six, nogal. It’s really stretching credulity to breaking point to claim that she is always going to be neutral.

The situation in the National Council of Provinces is not much better. Thandi Modise, when she’s not letting pigs die, is a former deputy secretary-general of the ANC. It’s hard to find a more political position than that. How on earth can anyone believe that she is going to be neutral?

At the moment, Malema poses a serious challenge to our organised politics and Establishment. It’s very simple. The establishment will have to adapt. Or face the consequences. DM

Photo: Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema sits on the floor after he was prevented from gaining access into the House at the Gauteng Legislature in Johannesburg on Tuesday, 22 July 2014. The party's members of the provincial legislature were ejected for wearing red overalls. Malema and some members overpowered the police on Tuesday during a protest march and stormed into the building but were prevented from gaining access. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA