Simon Williamson

Keep covering Malema

2012-09-21 10:12

Simon Williamson

While Julius Malema has been trying to resurrect his career by speaking with every disaffected South Africa he can find lately, and there are a fair few, renewed calls by people he annoys to stop the media attention foisted upon him got louder.
Fellow columnist at News24, Chris Moerdyk, previously speculated over whether the media created Julius Malema, as journalists were still attending his press conferences even after he was hoofed from the ANC. In a column in May, Moerdyk wrote, "But, one thing is for sure, right now the media is doing more for Malema than he could have imagined in his wildest dreams."

Moerdyk was correct that there was no formal position for Malema at the time, but underestimated the potential impact Malema retained, as we're seeing borne out now.
Later in the column Moerdyk said: "I admire the guy [Malema]. He is a brilliant marketer - the best the ANC has produced in years," which is a far truer reflection of the situation. There is a big overlap between politics and marketing, and the Young Lion is indeed pretty good at both - there is a reason he has such a following.

Important story for South Africans

My colleague at Daily Maverick, Sipho Hlongwane, wrote on Wednesday:
"Julius Malema has been a busy man. He’s been all over the place, speaking to disaffected people and convincing them that not only is he the only person willing to listen to them, but that he is personally going through the same trauma that they are. He has clearly been studying the best strategy ever written on how to mount a huge political comeback in South Africa, written by a certain Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, and is now applying it diligently."
If anyone is going around South Africa attempting to gain political power of any kind it is an important story for South Africans. It is important for us to know how Julius Malema is trying to mount a political comeback: who is he speaking to? Who listens to him? Is his following growing? Is there a viable chance of him returning to an official role in South African politics? There is also the vital question of whether he has support within the ANC.
It is also highly important to note his fractious relationship with the ANC leadership: for example, it is well within the public interest to know whether the trifecta of financial investigations he is facing are legitimate or stitch-up jobs for those who want him gone.

While it is highly significant if Malema has dodgy finances, it is even important for us citizens to know whether ANC leaders are prepared to destroy a potential rival, if our government is prepared to do a political hit job on someone they don’t like. There are also valid concerns over police stopping Malema speaking to miners at Wonderkop Stadium on Tuesday – the Daily Dispatch referred to that incident as "tantamount to denying him his constitutional rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly."

A powerful figure

Malema’s constant presence in South African news is not solely about him, but there are significant stories in which he plays an indirect part. Why was he invited by members of the South African National Defence Force to listen to their grievances? Why were miners at multiple facilities keen to speak with him about their concerns? Cosatu (and notably its largest affiliate: National Union of Mineworkers) failings were exposed during the Marikana episode. If the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union can raise hell at the mines, is there a gap for anyone else to do the same in place of NUM, an incredibly powerful South African organisation? Answers to these questions are incredibly important.
Malema remains a powerful figure in South Africa – perhaps without the clout he had not all that long ago, but important enough to recruit folks, and potentially many of them. It is important that we know as much about him, and anyone else attempting to gain power in South Africa, as we can, and how successful they are.
As my editor at Daily Maverick, Branko Brkic, wrote in 2010, "As long as there are still people who care, we [the media] need to shout the truth about Julius Malema, or anyone else. And we need to shout it now, loudly and as often as we can."

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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