In the latest twist of the saga in current South African politics former ANC Youth League President Julius Malema has been charged with money laundering. Malema, once an ally of President Jacob Zuma now counts himself as Zuma’s chief foe.
“We must make sure Jacob Zuma does not become president of the ANC…. Remove him as a president,” Malema said on Wednesday after being released on bond. “Zuma has 700 charges against him. I only have one.”
And so it is hard not to see political machinations in the charges, however legitimate, against Malema. Malema certainly does. And if Zuma’s fingerprints are anywhere near the charges coming down now one has to wonder what the President is thinking. After all, Thabo Mbeki’s alleged meddling in the legal system against Zuma after Mbeki’s ousting as party president in the last great political reckoning in South African history, in Polokwane in December 2007, led directly to Mbeki’s resignation from the presidency and only barely indirectly to Zuma’s ascension.
One perhaps telling facet of Malema’s current legal wrangling is that the populist firebrand simply does not appear to be all that popular. Police preparations and media anticipation of a showdown notwithstanding, few supporters showed up for his hearing just as the numbers at a rally for him the night before he appeared in court were underwhelming. If Malema had plans to use these charges to resurrect his political career, or at least to do so in time for the ANC party gathering for its elective conference at Mangaung in December, he might need to change tack. Zuma may well be vulnerable, but right now it appears that Malema may be a spent force.