Georgina Guedes

Seeing red in Parliament

2014-05-23 14:53

Georgina Guedes

Julius Malema in red overalls and gumboots, with his political colleagues alongside him similarly attired, being sworn in at Parliament. And then, Jacob, Cyril Ramaphosa at his side, both dressed in sombre black suits, also being sworn in. The juxtaposition of these two images makes a beautiful statement – one that will be remembered by South Africans for many years to come.

Of course, we must take the statement at face value. It’s a bit of extremely clever politicking by an extremely manipulative individual. He chose a time and place where he knew that his fellow politicians would be dressed appropriately for Parliament, and he placed himself alongside them in his red overalls.

The message is clear: “I’m a man of the people. I’m not one of these fat cats. I’m not caught up in the trappings of power. I remember my roots.”

Julius and Jacob

These are good messages. They are powerful in a country that has risen to glory on the backs of exactly these kinds of workers, and where the poor and the working class are given very little in the way of health, education or other social support.

And this, by contrast to Jacob Zuma, our president who blew R250 million on a renovation he apparently didn’t notice but reckons he deserved. The ANC is a powerful organisation with relevant and admirable policies, but I am not entirely sure of its leadership right now. Malema is echoing a lot of what this country – on either side of the economic divide – is thinking right now.

Of course, as with so much else that Malema offers for public consumption, it’s a lot of hot air. Man of the people he may pretend to be, but he’s evading a R16 million tax bill and his house was auctioned off for 1.4 million to cover some of those costs. This is not a man living within humble means, however he may dress.

So, well done, Julius. You made a powerful statement and grabbed headlines – and I, for one, am delighted that you’ll be in Parliament because it’s certainly going to be a more interesting place with you in a seat. I also believe that you’ll rattle a lot of cages and keep some people more honest because you’re not afraid to speak your mind. So thanks for that.

Government is a serious business

Here’s my real problem with all of this drama about the Parliamentary uniform. I think that the very serious business of running the country is being undermined. Of course, a person can wear a golf shirt and chinos, a black suit, Bermuda shorts or a red overall and still make the same decisions – whether those are self-serving or community oriented, but there is more to politics than grandstanding and rabble rousing.

So, yes, we all sniggered when we saw the swearing-in photos, and we all acknowledged that Malema has a point –he certainly does – but at the same time, the measure of the man will be taken at the end of his political career. Malema will have to do more than grab headlines and cause chaos to be remembered as anything more than a troublemaker.

In the meantime, others are running the country – and they’re wearing suits to do it, as well they should.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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