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Julius Malema: A Future President?

15 October 2012, 16:25

215 comments in under one hour on this site. I had not previously seen any report that could elicit such a reaction. It could only be one man...Julius Malema. “Arguably the most influential person in the country”, as the editor of Business Day described him. Most comments were angry, dismissive or defiant; there was support, too, from some quarters. Malema had, on a visit to Zimbabwe, touched on the two most sensitive subjects in South Africa: land reform and the wealth generated by the mines. Despite the bravado of many respondents, there is a palpable fear of Malema’s power, although his expulsion from the ANC and court charges over financial irregularities would have been thought to have diminished his public profile.

Already he is referred to by some disaffected youth as ‘our President’. More than half of young black people are unemployed, and as the South African economy continues to struggle, they provide a ready source of support to the defiant former Youth League leader. He has also connected to certain elements with the ruling party itself as the popularity of the incumbent President wanes. Malema continues to make headlines, despite moves to marginalise him. The danger is the political vacuum that exists in the country: the political elite have consolidated their position, but it has been at the expense of the majority of citizens. The economic and social cost is immense, and there is no shortage of angry and alienated people out there They are looking for scapegoats, be they foreigners from other parts of Africa or whites who have lived there for centuries.

There is a precedent: in 1923 a young man in a certain European country went to prison for attempting to overthrow the existing government. In prison, he set out his ideas in a book. These included promoting an ethnic nationalism, targeting a certain minority and acting against specific ideologies. His charismatic oratory and skilful use of propaganda led to him being elected leader of his country. The rest is history. Closer to home in a country neighbouring South Africa, there was another, less charismatic but just as evil demagogue who decided that scapegoating a small segment of the population would be useful in deflecting attention away from his government’s failings. He brutalised his own population as well as the targeted minority, and his people starved or fled.

In South Africa, there are no real choices, other than whether to stay or leave. Politics has shifted not towards the centre as one might have expected given the government’s failings, but towards a dangerous extreme. There is no united opposition, nor is there any sign of a change in voter support for the current ruling party. What are the chances of anything good happening? There’s a word for it in my country: Buckley’s. Meaning: Zero. Zip. Nothing. Nada. The die is cast. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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