Learning to be a revolutionary

2011-08-20 10:40

‘It came as no surprise to find a ­legion of praise singers in Limpopo lining up to piece ­together Julius Malema’s past when I tried to gather an understanding of how he shot from street urchin to a reasonable ­degree of political standing with enormous clout in his home province, all by the age of 20-something.

As president of the ANCYL based in the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, he wasn’t a public office bearer, but he was calling the shots across Limpopo and allegedly doing all of the hiring and firing in the ­provincial government of Cassel Mathale, who was sworn in during June 2009.

So nothing was neutral any longer and reality was often over-rated, with portrayals of Malema tending to be mawkish, at best. A blur of fact and fancy . . .

And then along came Freddie ­Ramaphakela and he talked me through Malema’s very early years. The pair are buddies of old and it is he who lays claim to ‘discovering’ Malema. And it’s a badge he wears with pride and with Malema’s blessing.

But again, it’s a story that is relayed after the fact.In 1989 . . . Ramaphakela found himself on the wrong side of the A team, the white police unit of the former homeland of Lebowa, to which the township of Seshego belonged.

The 24-year-old was a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) . . . On that day, 13 June, Ramaphakela was holding court on the stoep of the Corner Store, the general grocer in front of the Malema family’s house in Masakaneng, with six young boys who were quizzing him about the struggle.

“What is June 16th all about?” they wanted to know.“What are you really fighting for?”“Are the whites our only enemy?”“Are we going to win?”“When?”Malema was one of the six and he was eight years old at the time.

Ramaphakela wanted them to understand the basics of why black South Africans were fighting against white domination, but he knew he would have to simplify his message.

These boys were young, the oldest among them no more than 10 or 11 years old.

So he gave it to them in basic terms.Had their mothers ever told them how they suffered at work under their white bosses . . . Did they know of any whites who worked for blacks?“That is how unfair and how wrong the system is,” he told them.

“It is set up to work against us. Whites don’t give blacks a chance in our own country. And we are trying to change that.”

“De boy ga a na verstaan,” Malema said in local slang. He was suggesting the boys wouldn’t be able to grasp what Ramaphakela was saying.

It is possible that the eight-year-old didn’t understand it either, but his pride wouldn’t allow him to admit that . . . a white Super-10 mini-bus pulled up outside the shop and two officers from the A team got out.

With that, the young boys skedaddled. But Malema stayed put . . . “What are you doing?’ the officers demanded of Ramaphakela as they approached him.

“I’m teaching them the difference between Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs,” he told them in response.“Do you drink Black Label or Castle?” one of the officers asked.

“What’s that got to do with it?” Ramaphakela answered back. But he didn’t even have the words out of his mouth when he saw the knuckles of one of the officers’ fists . . . Ramaphakela wanted to run.

“But then I thought, how could I? I had just been telling these young boys about the importance of fighting the fight.

Julius was still standing there. And as I tried to defend myself, I heard Julius shout out ‘Hey wena. O ska betha dai man’.” . . .

Ramaphakela remembers thinking afterwards, “Now there’s someone who’s fearless and not afraid to fight.”When in the months that followed Ramaphakela decided to start an underground MK for juniors to train them in guerrilla tactics Malema was one of a handful of youths he decided to bring under his wing.

Child fighters were not uncommon in struggles on the African continent or elsewhere and around that time in South Africa MK was rounding up teenagers . . .

But Ramaphakela was recruiting much younger boys, children who were hardly old enough to spell their own names, and he was taking them underground in their own country.

The MK veterans I have relayed this story to each scratched their heads in bewilderment, adamant that the armed wing did not recruit children at any time during the ­struggle.

But Ramaphakela stands by his story. He formed a cell and Malema was one of his recruits . . .

“he could always sustain an ­argument until he won it. And he was a fighter – in a physical sense – and to this day I firmly believe that if I hadn’t led him into the ANC, I would have put him into boxing.”

As tough as he was, Malema also had the innocence of a child of his age and he laughs today as he thinks back on his outlook then.

“ . . . If the problem was the whites being in charge, then all we had to do was put the blacks in charge and the problem would be solved.”

Hence he was a ready soldier when Ramaphakela began to rope the young boys in very, very slowly in the first few months of 1990. During their first few months, Ramaphakela talked to them about the basics of the struggle and the ­importance of armed resistance and why the ANC was resorting to ­heavier means.

He got them to stockpile tyres . . . so they could be used for barricading.

He talked to them about combat ­activities . . . And he eventually taught them how to use a Makarov 9 mm ­pistol. He first taught them how to ­focus their aim. Then one day, about a year or so later, he loaded it with live ammunition and got each of them to pull the trigger.

“And he taught us how to dismantle it and clean it and put it back together,” Malema remembers.

» These are edited extracts from ­ ­ An Inconvenient Youth by Fiona Forde, taken from pages 41-47 

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