Don’t blame Malema

2010-04-11 13:35

By Pumla Dineo Gqola

WHAT a bunch of hypocrites our ­political leaders are for blaming ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and deifying a supremacist.


I was not sad when Terre’Blanche died. Nor was I ­particularly happy.


As a private citizen, I need not publicly feign concern for a white supremacist who traumatised more people than those he was convicted for savagely ­violating.


The responses of South Africa’s political leadership stirred me out of my boredom. No fan of the ­president of the Republic, I was nonetheless stunned as I listened to Jacob Zuma’s live broadcast of his address to the nation later that evening.


Zuma spoke of how ET’s death was a tragedy for the country, and how the two young men who ­attacked him were violent ­criminals.

Not for these nameless, faceless young men the benefit of the doubt, given that they had made that call to the police themselves rather than flee. No reason was given for why the nation should consider this particular death a tragedy, but not think ­similarly of the ruined lives of the ­killers, one of whom is still a ­minor.


Congress of the People (Cope) leader Terror Lekota actually went as far as to visit Terre’Blanche’s farm. His organisation had better remember this moment when Cope fails to get farmworkers’ and landless peoples’ votes. Regardless of the fact that two people admitted to the killing, Lekota blamed Julius Malema for singing ­­­Dubul’ibhunu. In a rare moment of ­consensus, it was as though the leadership of the entire political spectrum had decided that this connection was an established fact.


I don’t buy this for one second.


The two young men who killed Terre’Blanche killed him because of who he was. He was one of the most recognisable figures in South Africa: violent, hateful and convicted as such. His attack and death was not the result of some ‘random’ black-on-white attack on white farmers.


This killing seems like a ­specific expression of rage by ­disempowered people. As I read my papers, I was reminded of what feminist writer bell hooks calls the “fierce anger of black ­people stung by repeated instances of everyday racism” in her book Killing Rage.


To hold Malema accountable, no matter how lazily convenient this is, is to pretend that who ­Eugene Terre’Blanche was does not matter. And yet, the prominence given to his death shows that the opposite is true.


Many people die violently ­every day in South Africa but we do not know most of their names and politicians barely show they care. This is because there are no easy political points to be scored for ­doing their jobs and ending the scourge of violent crime.


In South Africa, rightwing mass murderers have a chance at rehabilitation, forgiveness, acquittal and amnesty. The two people arrested for bludgeoning the AWB leader remain invisible to both the right wing and most of the political leaders who were ­featured in the evening news. ­Focusing on Malema is much ­easier than admitting to what drives a child and a young adult to kill so aggressively.


There is another reason that I find blaming Malema ­unconvincing. Inappropriate though the song may be in a post-apartheid South Africa, and even though Malema is idolised like a rock star by some, he neither ­creates racial tension nor motivates black people to go out and shoot white people. We are not on the brink of a race war – right-wing paranoia and imaginative politicians notwithstanding.


I do understand the Malema ­fixation. He is spectacularly ­infuriating. But obsessing over Malema when he is not the issue detracts from the ongoing racialised institutional power and ­violence at the heart of existing ­racial tension.


Politicians have the power to change the state of race relations, but it is much easier to blame Malema, who neither pulled the trigger nor has anything to gain from Terre’Blanche’s death.


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