Until recently, Julius Malema was president of the ANC Youth League and, as head of an important subsidiary of South Africa’s ruling party, a political rising star in that country, maybe a future president. But his political career may well be over at the age of 30, now that an ANC disciplinary committee has suspended him from the party for five years and removed him from his ANCYL office. Malema might still be able to summon a mob when he wants to — as he did in September, when supporters rioted outside the building where his case was being tried — but without access to the ANCYL’s bank account, where will he get the money to bus them in? Suspended from the ANC, under investigation for corruption, unable to play kingmaker at next year’s party conference, where he might have been as instrumental in unseating current president Jacob Zuma as he was in electing him four years ago — mother of mercy, is this the end of Juju?
One would hope so. Malema’s politics are not very different from those of his friend Robert Mugabe — he favors the seizure of white-owned farmland without compensation, the amplification of demagogic anti-white racism (Malema was convicted of racial hate speech earlier this year), and the nationalization of mines. Now, one of the great silver linings of South Africa’s belated liberation was that, by the time black South Africans gained control of their country, it had been established to just about everybody’s satisfaction that nationalizing mines was a very bad idea. Nelson Mandela eventually let the nationalization issue drop, and his successor Thabo Mbeki didn’t pick it back up. But Malema has hammered the theme of state expropriation of mines, and was hoping to maneuver it into the ANC’s official platform at the next party conference. So much for that plan.
Of course, Malema was not suspended from the ANC for conspiring to wreck the South African economy, nor for being a corrupt “tenderpreneur” (a species of kleptocrat), nor yet for threatening to reveal the home address and car license-plate number of a journalist who reported on his tenderpreneurship. Malema even survived the revelation that, despite the modesty of his ANCYL salary, he is building a $2 million mansion for himself, complete with an underground bunker (an ominous home feature for a demagogue). The official charges in today’s verdict were all matters of party discipline: When Malema said at a press conference that Mbeki was a better leader than Zuma, he was guilty of “portraying the current government and its leadership . . . in a negative light”; when he and his friends disrupted a high-level party meeting, he was guilty of “undermining” the official who was chairing it. Disobedience, sowing division, bringing the party into disrepute — those were the offenses that got him suspended.
Which is why we shouldn’t read too much into Malema’s fall. This was mostly a party-politics move, executed to eliminate a threatening piece from the chessboard. But when Moody’s lowered South Africa’s credit-rating outlook recently, one reason it cited was “political leadership’s unwillingness to definitively reject demands from certain segments of the political spectrum for more activist policy interventions.” Those “certain segments” will have a harder time making demands without their loudest spokesman.