EFF leader Julius Malema. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL
EFF leader Julius Malema. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL

When Julius Malema came onto the national political stage it was in an unsavory context. It was about 2007, when he supported the embattled and controversial Jacob Zuma who was facing corruption and rape charges and recovering from the public shame of being removed from the executive.

Malema flourished in this environment partly because Thabo Mbeki had cast Zuma into a political wilderness to be comforted by people such as Zwelinzima Vavi and Blade Nzimande, who were nursing wounds inflicted by president Thabo Mbeki. This alliance of the wounded formed a formidable attack, Vavi representing workers, Nzimande the SACP, and Malema the ANC Youth League (ANCYL).

Malema was the loudest and brashest in the alliance and would be unleashed onto any of its enemies. Neither he nor his allies cared about the consequences of his actions for the constitution and the public good. He did not care about the longevity of the ANC as a liberation movement either.

It was Malema who was the fiercest general in the recalling of Mbeki. It was Malema that publicly lambasted Khwezi, Zuma’s rape accuser. “When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money. In the morning, that lady requested breakfast and taxi money,” Malema told a cheering audience.

Disintegration started

Journalists, members of the opposition and even internal enemies of the ANC were not spared these types of verbal insults and public shaming. And very few dared stand in his way.

This Polokwane alliance progressed well with Malema as its most vocal spokesperson, winning the ANC conference and the national election, and solidifying themselves as the new guard. But towards 2010 it began gradually disintegrating and was destroyed by the man leading it — Zuma. The disintegration started with the fallout between Malema and Zuma, progressed to the fallout with Cosatu and spiralled from there.

When the EFF was formed many (including myself) were excited at the prospect of having a passionate ally against the unmitigated tyranny that was inflicted on South Africans. We welcomed the repentance of Malema as he apologised to the likes of Helen Zille, Khwezi, Mbeki and the nation for his mistakes. We forgave him and embraced him as a changed man.

What made him more endearing was the fact that as a former ally of the destructive Zuma he understood his playbook better than most. His expulsion from the ANCYL caused the weakening of Zuma’s machinery while strengthening the war against his reign of corruption.

This battle improved Malema’s stature, but also presented him as someone on whom the country could rely to fight corruption and stand for the spirit of the constitution. The country even forgot about his character weaknesses, conspicuous consumption, vulgarity and alleged corruptions.

The great concern is that since Zuma’s recalling Malema has been targeting Zuma’s enemies as his own

The honeymoon lasted until Malema assisted the country in ejecting Zuma from power. The fact that the EFF helped in removing the worst president in post-apartheid SA and the worst in the ANC’s history, will forever be written in history and must be appreciated.

But since Zuma has been defeated the EFF has few enemies left, and it is vulnerable. The revolutionary posture of the EFF and Malema’s predilection for confrontational politics means that he needs enemies. The very creation of the EFF was necessitated by the fact that Malema’s was being sidelined by his enemies.

So as much as it is a political party, the EFF has found itself being used to settle the political scores of its commander-in-chief. The enemies are necessary for political relevance.

The great concern is that since Zuma’s recalling Malema has been targeting Zuma’s enemies as his own. But Zuma has those enemies for different reasons. Not only are they the ones who ousted him from power but they have also been engaging in a relentless cleanup of his nine-year mess. The cleanup has involved him being publicly shamed by a variety of testimonies in the various commissions.

He is also fighting a range of legal battles that may result in him ending up in prison.

Converge conveniently

Zuma thus cannot take the 2017 defeat lying down. His only chance of survival is to be as close as possible to state power. He has mastered the playbook of using political power to gain state power and using that against legal troubles. The longer he is removed from power, the more he takes knocks, the more vulnerable he becomes… he must fight back.

Zuma’s existential crisis and Malema’s political-relevance crisis converge quite conveniently for both of them. We have already seen them singing from the same hymn sheet on the removal of former Sars boss Tom Moyane, the spies in the ANC and what they believe is a prejudicial posture of the Zondo commission of inquiry.

Furthermore, it was not lost on us that the public protector’s legal counsel (who happens to be Zuma’s legal counsel) was on the same team with the EFF counsel in the high court battle between Mkhwebane and Gordhan.

It also seems that both Zuma and Malema have set their sights on discrediting the judiciary.

These occurrences of collaboration are not coincidental, they are becoming too common and increasingly unsettling.

The fear is that it will not be too long before Malema and Zuma rekindle their past love affair. In politics there are no permanent enemies. This alliance has caused SA irreparable harm. If rekindled, the damage may be bigger than before.

I have once said that Jacob Zuma is so destructive, he would burn SA down to the ground just to rule over the ashes. The question is, is Malema willing to assist him in this endeavour?

• Simon Mtsuki is a professional speaker, writer and social entrepreneur.