Can we please talk about Malema’s apologies to Mbeki?

According to AZAD ESSA, the EFF leader’s theatrics cannot disguise a losing struggle.

On Tuesday, Julius Malema, in his response to #SONA2016, began his rebuttal with an apology to Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki for making Jacob Zuma president.

“We are here today to once again apologise to former president Mbeki for being part of those who removed him on the basis of lies and rumours spread by the sitting president,” he said.

But what exactly is the point of appealing for the forgiveness of Mbeki and Mandela?

Mandela is dead. Mbeki has succumbed. We don’t need to hear Malema apologising to Mandela and Mbeki for rooting for Zuma.

Rather, we want to know when Malema, and let’s not forget Zwelinzima Vavi here too, will apologise to the all the people they persuaded to back Jacob Zuma.

If Malema brought the unemployed and angry young men and women from urban and rural to the polling stations to vote for Jacob Zuma then Vavi convinced the working class to jive to umshini wami.

Even in Polokwane, where Zuma was elected as ANC president over Mbeki, sealing the former president’s fate in the political wilderness is remembered for personality politics over policy matters.

Despite the progressive thoughts and pretty words now (much of which we agree with), why should Malema be trusted now? What exactly is so different about his politics and why should we be convinced his ambition has transcended the humiliation of expulsion?

The personal is political, and the political personal, or so they say. You want to talk about a revolution. So let’s talk.

In 2008, Julius Malema and Zwelinzima Vavi stood up for Jacob Zuma and said things like: “We will kill for Zuma.”

And as Zuma’s court dates filled his diary, from rape charges to corruption charges, both Malema and Vavi spoke of a conspiracy to undermine their man, a dear leader.

The remarks made “us” all nervous because it told of the extent to which Zuma’s supporters would go to get their man into office. But it made us especially nervous when Zuma did not intervene, or caution his cheerleaders against using language that would instil fear into the heart of the middle class.

At the time, I didn’t see it as a warning to the judiciary or opposition from compiling a case against Zuma.

Instead, I argued, Vavi and Malema were actually reminding Zuma that they had thrown their lot in with him and that he had better deliver on his promises. Or else. Of course Zuma didn’t deliver.

Vavi, for his part, has gone from being a Zuma man, to being a sworn enemy of Umsholozi. He went from being the celebrated leader of a forceful trade union federation, to the pariah leader of a trade union federation that was a shadow of its former self. And in between, there has been a sex scandal with a subordinate (protecting the rights of workers for who?), and allegations that he had unduly benefitted in the sale of an old Cosatu building.

And now he’s looking to form a new trade union confederation that truly represents the workers.

Malema was kicked out of the ANC and formed the Economic Freedom Fighters – but not before he grovelled before the ANC to take him back. Who knows how Gwede Mantashe feels about the way the ANC ignored Malema’s letter appealing his expulsion in Mangaung?

Malema’s speech on Tuesday had all the hallmarks of a traditional ANC speech.

He now represents the ANC that may have been. Today, ANC veterans live vicariously through the robust and radical politics of the EFF.

And it got me thinking about an article I wrote way back in the chilly winter of July 2008, amid xenophobia, economic recession and mass political conspiracy over the case against Zuma.

I’ll blame it on the hubris of (relative) youth that at the time it was fair to see Malema as speaking uncomfortable truths and seeking personal riches as an ANC MP one day through his support of Zuma. And Vavi, for his part, had lent his vociferous support to Zuma for fear of further neo-liberal fallacies making their way into a Mbeki-controlled presidency.

Nevertheless, its remarkable how “political speak” can be interpreted.

And it was clear back in 2008 that while Malema and Vavi were little more than hopeful that Zuma will deliver change, they were still prepared to offend and instil fear into any opposition to their noble but ultimately wicked plan.

Malema’s rousing speech at #SonaDebate might have titillated social media, but his words, powerful though they are, and his walkout, dramatic as it was, have become spectacles in a sad saga. By focusing on Zuma, the EFF make the same mistake Malema and Vavi (and others made) when they pinned all ills on Mbeki. And so the show goes on.

Featured Imaga via Flickr.