Julius Malema is fluent in the art of persuasion

2014-09-23 06:45

Julius Malema charmed the pants off some old white folk in the Western Cape last week.

I knew it was a success when the host called him “articulate” at the end of his talk at the Cape Town Press Club.

I’ve been living in the Mother City for about eight years and I know I’ve won over a local white audience when I’m introduced at parties as “my friend Joonji, who’s very articulate”, or “very smart”.

“Interestingly lucid and fluid,” is how one member described Malema, sounding surprised that he uttered those words about the commander in chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

“And you’ve got what others [politicians] don’t have – humour,” he added.

They were all right, of course. Malema is silver-tongued. He’s also the only leader serving right now who is bringing back the thrill of oratory delivery.

What I learnt last week is that not only can he rouse the masses, he can get the privileged purring.

Many write him off as coarse and uneducated. They judge him for his academic shortcomings. In so doing, they ignore his wit and skill in wielding language (not English), as well as his political foresight.

And ultimately, they miss the point about the power of a word few would associate with Malema – eloquence. Politics is about persuasion, especially for those still seeking office.

His job now is to mobilise and inspire: massage egos, publicly declare his audience’s enemies his biggest foes, tip his hat to figures they admire, and pronounce as moral the systems of governance they favour.

It’s not so much about right or wrong – only presidents are burdened by the need to deliver on their promises.

History proves that good leaders and dictators alike have risen up through rhetoric. This is how Winston Churchill moved men to war, how an inexperienced Barack Obama won a presidency. And how one of my favourite orators, Mark Antony, inspired a crowd to help him deliver on what was in essence a personal vendetta.

Malema’s fervour is partly driven by his distaste for President Jacob Zuma, something he knows he keenly shares with a Cape Town audience.

Much like Mark Antony did after Julius Caesar was murdered, Malema has swiftly filled the power vacuum, firing up the barren space left by our president by oiling our imagination with rhetoric, moving us to fear or favour him.

At the Press Club, he praised Helen Suzman and reminded us that Nelson Mandela was not questioned when he discarded the traditional suit and tie for his colourful shirts in Parliament.

I love how after all the buttering up, he landed jabs that drove home some truths. He drew attention to the liberal set’s co-opting of Mandela as a gentle giant.

“All of you must leave this imaginary Mandela and look at the real one. Read Long Walk to Freedom and see what he was doing at my age.

“You overcelebrate Trevor Manuel,” he announced, who he went on to lampoon as a blind follower of Zuma.

Then he asked us gathered “in a building that reflects old money” to support democracy, a system we hold dear, by supporting the EFF.

“You must not only support people who agree with you. Finance opposition, because if they [opposition parties] do not have funds, it will die a natural death, which means a one-party state and a dictatorship.”

In the media, Malema mostly sounds rabid. Last week, I think many were surprised to find him – yes – articulate.

He is a man fluent in the art of persuasion. It’s for this reason we should keep him close, whether as friend or foe.

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