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Malema And Mbalula's Relationship Status: It's Complicated

While some have called Fikile Mbalula and Julius Malema's recent reconnection at Black Coffee's wedding hypocritical, there's more to it than that.

10/01/2017 17:56 SAST | Updated 11/01/2017 21:27 SAST
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Muntu Vilakazi / Sunday Times / Gallo Images
Outgoing ANC Youth League president Fikile Mbalula and Julius Malema at the ANCYL presidential elections on 7 April 2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema and sports minister Fikile Mbalula, who are well-known to be political rivals, raised eyebrows at DJ Black Coffee's wedding last weekend where they were seen looking rather chummy.

The two reportedly got along merrily, and even posed for photographs together, throwing out peace signs. Recording artist and record producer DJ Oskido, who was also at the wedding, tweeted a picture capturing a happy moment captioned "A historic moment at Coffee's Wedding", in which he posed alongside the groom, DJ Black Coffee; EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi; Malema and Mbalula.

Ndlozi posted a similar picture taken at the same opportunity. In the caption, he also remarked on the "historical moment" with not-so-subtle subtext: "The reason why @RealBlackCoffee is a legend is precisely how this picture becomes historic; the easy ability to bring together what would not ordinarily come together".

We've grown familiar with Malema and Mbalula's parliamentary squabbles and twars marked by back-handed superlatives being thrown at one another. At the heart of politics is impassioned disagreement coloured by nuanced relationships. Mbalula and Malema's complex relationship speaks to the dynamics of politics in South Africa more broadly.

They were once on the same team - many moons ago, Malema succeeded Mbalula as ANC Youth League President. In fact, Mbalula hand-picked Malema for the top league position. But they've long since parted ways. The strength of Malema's EFF has grown in tandem with the weakening of the ANC, to which Mbalula is still faithful.

While they used to be comrades in the truest sense of the word, things took an ugly turn following their botched "Forces of Change" campaign to oust Jacob Zuma. Malema was expelled from the ANC, and went on to form the EFF, but Mbalula reformed himself within the party.

While Mbalula has in the past called Malema "directionless" and a backstabber, he still at times speaks highly of him. In an interview on "Real Talk" with Anele Mdoda in November 2016, Mbalula said Malema is "very intelligent," that he fights for what he believes in, and is not someone who buys friendship. "Even if the previous night you were drinking with him, he will tell you that you are a coward the following day", the minister said.

It seems their relationship, like many others', is complicated.