Max du Preez: Ramaphosa is courting Malema - why it could backfire
Is the ANC trying to neutralise the EFF by smothering it in an adoring embrace? Or has the two parties' political approach become so similar that one can't see daylight between them?
It appears as if many in the ANC have come to see the EFF as the de facto ANC Youth League; its own youth structure under Collen Oros Maine being a bad joke.
The ANC's courting of the EFF started months ago, but it's becoming a rather steamy affair.
This weekend both the ANC's president and deputy president expressed the desire for Julius Malema and his team to please come home, because their blood was still green, black and gold.
Last month the ANC supported an EFF motion on land in Parliament as a Valentine's Day present and a Cabinet minister even respectfully referred to Malema as the Commander-in-chief.
If Bell Pottinger were still around, they would have slapped each other on the back. Job bloody well done, old chap.
Because the cheap populist streak the ANC has lately been showing has its roots in the Zuma/Gupta axis's efforts, ably spearheaded by Bell Pottinger, to camouflage its capture of the state, corruption and abuse of power by diverting the national discourse towards "radical economic empowerment", "white monopoly capital", land expropriation without compensation and the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank.
How ironic that it was three charlatan brothers from India who launched a campaign to stir up a new racial nationalism on the southern tip of Africa, and how ironic that they were so successful.
There was little difference in the racial nationalist rhetoric of EFF and ANC Members of Parliament during the parliamentary debate on land. No introspection on why land reform has been such a failure the last two decades, not even one reference to the explicit findings of former president Kgalema Motlanthe's High Level Panel's report of November last year.
ANC leadership figures lectured me on three separate occasions the last few weeks not to under-value the EFF's brash activism and the quality of its leaders.
But we do know that President Cyril Ramaphosa and his inner circle do not approve of the new cheap populism and racial nationalism – we have even seen glimpses of his old non-racialism from the UDF days since his election as president.
So why would he suck up to Malema, who has thus far only persuaded about 8 percent of the voters to support his party, less than a third of the DA's proven support?
Well, as we know since his election, Ramaphosa can be a masterful Machiavellian politician. I cannot for one second think that he really would want a crass demagogue and hothead in his party's leadership who is prone to hate speech and often threatens violence.
The theory that it is better to have someone inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in, does not apply here; Ramaphosa knows that Malema would piss in the tent even when he's inside.
I think Ramaphosa believes that the DA has reached its support ceiling and won't be able to gather the support of more than a quarter of the voters in next year's general election. It can be ignored.
The EFF, on the other hand, has real growth potential, especially among young people and voters from the emerging black middle class, and especially if the populist nature of our politics continues, as I fear it will.
It would make sense for Ramaphosa to flirt with and praise Malema because it would tarnish the EFF leader's image as a revolutionary messiah and take the wind out of the EFF's radical sails.
But it would serve another purpose: it would counter the attitude of many populists inside the ANC who accuse Ramaphosa of being too moderate and too cosy with white capital.
Ramaphosa's problem is that Malema is aware of these strategies. You can't pull a Machiavelli on a seasoned Machiavellian.
It is also a risky strategy in the sense that it artificially raises Malema's stature as a political leader, already the darling of the South African media, that reports his every breath and move, and furthers his own contention that he is the real force and opinion former in South African politics.
There are many South Africans who feel affirmed and enthused by the new radicalism and anti-white sentiments expressed from the political stages, but in the end even they know that a certain minimum of social cohesion is necessary for stability and growth.
If Ramaphosa and his party continue this courtship much longer, they will soon have to change the ANC's popular slogan of "The ANC Lives, the ANC Leads" to "The ANC Lives, Malema Leads".
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