Dashiki Dialogues: Juju and the black prophetic tradition

2014-03-12 10:00

Julius Malema seems to have transformed himself in South Africa’s public imagination.

The figure we once thought of as the enfant terrible of the ANC seems to be fading out of memory, with Juju re-emerging as a heroic figure of sorts.

Perhaps a classically tragic one who is forever besieged by trouble owing to his constant clashes with the law.

Although it surprised many, the sea of red berets at the Mehlareng Stadium in Tembisa to launch the Economic Freedom Fighters’ election manifesto should have been expected.

Even during his days as the often- hilarious heckler-president of the ANC Youth League, the man had some pull. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have taken a chance by launching a political party.

But these are only the uninteresting features of his unfolding metamorphosis. The more interesting part emerged with a painting that was hoisted at the launch. It showed Juju in red regalia against a green background.

The former rabble-rouser was given a curious iconic symbolism by the implied projected admiration declared by the painting.

The painting in question was created by one Baba Khumalo, who is reported to have said: “I wanted my leader to know that God sent him to lead us to freedom.” This turn of phrase connects Khumalo’s gesture and?–?by extension?–?his subject with black liberation theology’s prophetic tradition.

It is shaped by black Marxist thought and notions of “ethereal deliverance”.

The idolised leader acquires a certain quasi-biblical quality. Something similar to how Madiba was rhetorically fashioned into a Moses figure leading South Africa to a “promised land”.

You have to wonder what will follow in the Juju story. Will he falter and implode, or will he grow to embody what African-American scholar Cornel West phrased as “the sincere black militancy of Malcolm X, the defiant rage of the Black Panther Party and the livid black liberation theology of James Cone”.

It’s a dialogue whose dashiki only the future will undress.

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