The war against Malema – crazy or stupid?

The war against Malema – crazy or stupid?

EFF leader Julius Malema and AfriForum deputy CEO Ernst Roets.

AfriForum, a lobby group with just over 200,000 members at last count, seems intent on provoking the leader of a political party with the support of more than a million.

Lobby group AfriForum made it clear at a media briefing yesterday that they’re determined to see Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema behind bars.

This was clear before the briefing started, from an image proudly displayed on a screen behind CEO Kallie Kriel, star prosecutor advocate Gerrie Nel, and head of safety Ian Cameron: “Is Malema op pad tronk toe?“, or “Is Malema headed for jail?”

Rather than wait for the work of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) – who the organisation described both as incompetent and untrustworthy – the organisation will attempt to achieve this by sicking “the bulldog” – as Nel is nicknamed, on the leader of the red berets.

They have chosen to pursue three cases: The On Point Engineering scandal which saw Malema alongside two co-accused on trial for alleged tender fraud dating back to 2012; the alleged assault of a police officer by Malema and EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi in April 2018; and an incident at the party’s fifth birthday celebrations in which Malema was accused of firing an assault rifle, which Ndlozi claimed at the time was just a toy gun.

I can’t speak to Malema’s innocence or guilt in any of these matters, just as I have no inside information on any of the other crimes he has been accused of – such as having been involved in the looting of VBS Bank, having funded his party through the illegal cigarette trade, or having assaulted a female officer following February’s Sona.

I am very far from an EFF supporter, having written unflinchingly about some of the above allegations, as well as Malema’s threats against journalists.

But the idea of Malema being brought to book by an organisation seen by many (I would venture to say the majority) of South Africans as representing (although they have denied these charges) thinly veiled racism and apartheid nostalgia, is a terrible one for reasons that should seem obvious.

While the organisation’s deputy CEO, Ernst Roets, has said this was “nothing personal“, and Kriel told those at the briefing that AfriForum’s actions against Malema were based on the simple principle that all were equal before the law, who they are means that this will inevitably be seen as a politically motivated attack on one of the country’s best-loved leaders – and love him or hate him, you surely can’t deny the level of support he enjoys.

South Africa is full of politicians who have been accused of doing illegal things, from former president Jacob Zuma to current ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule to President Cyril Ramaphosa himself. It is also full of alleged corporate criminals – like Markus Jooste or those KPMG staff involved in the auditing of Gupta-linked accounts. And many of those responsible for what most consider South Africa’s biggest ever crime – apartheid – like Wouter Basson, Craig Williamson, and Johann Coetzee, have never been held legally accountable for their actions.

I realise this may seem like a bunch of whatabouteries, and concede that AfriForum can’t be expected to prosecute everyone. But them centring on one man, a man who just so happens to be the most prominent face of a policy – expropriation without compensation – that AfriForum is investing all its energy in opposing, make these claims of it being a non-personal, non-politically motivated attack seem ridiculous.

This doesn’t mean that I think Malema should be exempt from the same legal processes afforded to all South Africans, or that I think the NPA will necessarily get round to prosecuting him, or would be able to do so successfully. Nor am I saying AfriForum don’t have a right to try to prosecute him.

In South Africa, though, politics is everything, and who does something matters. Even if the NPA – a non-partisan organisation (at least we hope so, now that Shaun Abrahams is gone) – were to send Malema to jail, there would be a backlash that could verge on civil war. If AfriForum were to do so, the country burning, I would predict, is as much as guaranteed.

What AfriForum is doing is provoking someone with millions of followers who see him and his party – whether or not this perception is misguided – as their only hope for genuine economic freedom after the governing ANC has failed to deliver on this for a quarter of a century.

To do this, you have to be one of two things – crazy or stupid.

Either AfriForum doesn’t realise how dangerous it would be for the country if they were the ones to send Malema to jail – which would be an indictment on their level of intelligence – or they do know but don’t care, which would make them insane.

I would argue, based on both the public and private dealings with him, that Kriel is not the sharpest pencil in the box. Roets, however, certainly doesn’t seem stupid. In fact, he was described yesterday on Twitter by Simon Grindrod – pretty accurately I think – as “that kid at school who got a prize for maths and constantly reminded everyone how clever he was”.

It surprises me, then, that Roets shows what appears to be a stunning lack of intelligence when it comes to calculating the consequences of his organisation’s actions.

Roets took to Twitter yesterday to taunt Malema, who of course did so back. In the process, Roets noted that the EFF represents roughly 10% of the electorate, which amounts to roughly 3% of the country.

His figures may be correct. His belief that this is a small number of people is, I would argue, not. Nor can it be assumed that those who would side with the EFF leader against the lobby group would only be their voters or supporters.

Unless I’m missing something here, Kriel (who despite his body shape would definitely be Pinkie in this metaphor) and Roets (who, while the tall skinny one, would be The Brain) know full well how dangerous their legal decisions could be and it’s all part of their masterplan.

Either way, I get a really uneasy feeling in my stomach just thinking about how this one could play out.

The Citizen digital news editor Daniel Friedman. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark.

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