When Julius Malema (pictured sharing a private moment with Winnie Mandela) appeared in court on a charge of hate speech earlier this year the ANC leadership were quick to rally to his defence, despite the earlier indiscretions of the young firebrand. Malema had already made himself unpopular with his calls for mine nationalisation and his inflammatory racial rhetoric. Some of the ANC leadership must have wondered whether the trial was not an ideal moment to wield the knife, suspend Malema and win back some of their hemorrhaging support among whites, coloureds and Indians. It is possible that the leadership's failure to do so was down to a fear of angering Malema’s vocal supporters or perhaps a genuine show of support for his language, but a cynic might suggest that the aggression of the Youth League’s rhetoric was not entirely unwelcome to the grownups in the ANC. Nixon’s “madman theory” - the promotion of the idea that Nixon was insane and unstable to prevent hostile leaders provoking the USA - would suggest that if whites, and perhaps more importantly the growing demographic of wealthy, ANC-voting black capitalists, truly believe that Malema is the coming man they will keep a hold of nurse, in the form of Jacob Zuma and other members of the ANC old guard, rather than undermining him and smoothing the way for a radical Malema premiership ten years down the line.
Now Malema has been elected to serve a second term as the head of the ANC Youth League. And despite his ongoing legal troubles he was in his usual ebullient form at the ANCYL conference, promising to continue his fight to nationalise the mines, and threatening “white monopoly capital” with a “leaderless revolution”. Perhaps most threatening was his call for land reform, which will send shivers down the spines of Boers as they remember the fate of white farmers in Zimbabwe under Zanu PF. Admittedly, those Boers where hardly part of the ANC core vote to begin with, so what may be more worrying is Malema’s call for an open leadership race within the ANC.It seems unlikely that even Malema, self-confident to a fault though he is, sees himself at the top table any time soon, but it is nonetheless a direct attack on the old guard and their control of the party's high-command. With Winnie Mandela behind him, Malema future seems even brighter than it did before the trial began. The conference came to a dramatic close on Sunday with ANCYL head launching a barely veiled attack on the party leadership. Depending on one’s political views one could argue that ANC bigwigs have nurtured a viper in their bosom, that Malema was enacting a righteous retribution, or that the monster the ANC created has turned against it. Whatever their feelings, Malema is here to stay, and having so openly supported him in court they can hardly drop him, even if the trail goes against him. Whatever happens, we can be sure that the grownups will be keeping a keener watch on the children’s table from now on.