I do not wish to ingratiate myself with the expelled African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) Leader Julius Malema nor do I wish to profile myself at his expense, but I would like to answer the question that has been lingering in my mind for a while, “Is Julius Malema as bad as he is made to be?”
To answer this question, I should first dispel the two main misconceptions held by many about him.
Without any doubt, Malema is the selling news. He makes headline on daily basis, not only in South Africa (SA) but also across the globe. In 2011, he was named The Newsmaker of the Year, an accolade he shared with an ever so workaholic Public Protector (PP) Thuli Madonsela.
Moreover, his newsworthiness was attested by the two biographies, “The World According to Julius Malema” co-authored by Max Du Preez and Mandy Rossouw, and “An Inconvenient Youth: Julius Malema and the ‘new’ ANC”, authored by Fiona Forde.
In the first book, authors hand-picked his famous and infamous sayings on the Democratic Alliance (DA) Leader Hellen Zille, the incumbent ANC President Jacob Zuma, and the Nando’s advert. They then critically analysed their underlying meanings within the context of the ‘new’ ANC.
Meanwhile, Forde went bit further to unearth his persona, from his poverty struck days in his homebirth Seshego, Limpopo, to his lavish lifestyle within the ranks of the ANC.
Even fashion designers like Obakeng Ramabodu have cashed in entrepreneurially on him as the sellable brand through his ‘Juju’ branded merchandise.
By virtue of not mincing his words, calling a spade a spade, he has been called names, from a rabble-rouser, a reckless populist, and all sorts of names.
The first misconception held by many about him is that he is stupid, uneducated, and a fool. A perception drawn stereotypically from his Grade 12 results in which he did not perform well.
In a normal conversation or discussion, when you support any of his political views irrespective of the merits thereof, you are considered a stupid, a fool, and uneducated.
Meanwhile those who reject whatever gets filtered out of his big mouth, notwithstanding demerits thereof, are considered clever, wise, and educated. His critics often fail to detach his persona from his political views and thus end up discussing him as the person instead of his political views.
The second misconception many held about him is that he uses the poor to his own political benefit. I hold ambivalent views to this misconception.
Yes, he uses the poor to his own political benefit, but the poor too, use him to their own political benefits. In the wake of Marikana crisis, he and the Friends of the Youth League (FYL) voluntarily stepped in to occupy a leadership vacuum left by the self-serving union leaders at the expense of the poor mineworkers.
He was accused of turning the situation into a political rally, as if we have never seen politicians turning memorial services and funerals into political rallies before in SA. We often see them, instead of consoling the bereaved families; they use the services to score political points. When Malema does it, is called political opportunism or instigation of violence.
Ironically, when Malema said the ANCYL is prepared to take arms and kill for Zuma, he was not instigating violence.
The same goes to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) threatening to destroy the tollbooths; it is not instigation of violence.
The mineworkers and suspended members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) knew very well that Malema could not solve their problems as such, but through his reckless public outburst, he will exert the necessary pressure to the government and their employers to accede to their demands.
It is thus lie-rich to arrogate that he uses the poor selfishly to advance his political ambitions.
Instead, it is the two sides of the same coin. As much as he needs the poor, the poor too need him. In fact, they are using his media limelight to get attention so that their grievances can be heeded.
Having dispelled the misconceptions, it is now befitting to answer the question, “Is Julius Malema as bad as he is made to be?”
The answer is NO! He is an epitome of today’s politics of the ANC, you only make sense when you hurl derogatory insults or call names at those holding divergent views to yours.
He is a victim of looking up to a wrong role model, in Zuma. Instead of giving him a fatherly guidance, Zuma led him astray with his political shenanigans.
When Zuma was expelled in 2005 as the Deputy President of the country, he claimed that he was a victim of a “systematic abuse of power” Malema too, claimed victimhood on his dictatorial leadership when he was expelled from the ANC in 2012.
When Zuma appeared in courts on rape trial and on corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering charges, a series of night vigil rallies were organised outside the courtyards. His supporters burnt down the T-shirts bearing Mbeki’s image.
Similarly, when Malema appeared before the ANC National Disciplinary Committee (NDC) and in court on charges of money laundering, the night vigil rallies were organised outside Lethuli House and the courtyard respectively.
His supporters burnt down the T-shirts bearing Zuma’s image.
To inoculate himself from the corruption stigma, Zuma attended various church services and he was ordained with an honorary priest. Malema too, accompanied by Floyd Shivambu, attended the same service.
Zuma, notoriously known of singing the violence inciting uMshini Wami song, dispelled the existence of homosexuality in his Zulu culture while Malema, notoriously known of singing the Shoot the boer song, dispelled the existence of hermaphrodite in his Pedi culture.
The instances drawn give credence to an assertion that Malema looked up to a wrong person to mould his political career. In fact, there is no major difference between the two except that Malema can clearly articulate his envisaged political vision irrespective of the merits or demerits thereof while Zuma has none of his own political vision.
By Molifi Tshabalala
This article will appear in the book, “An Anthology of Open Letters: The Views and the Voices of Ordinary Citizens in South Africa” to be published either late this year or early next year.