We shouldn't dismiss Julius Malema's persistent and pervasive threats to our nation as a mere irritation. It is conceivable that all his smoke and mirrors are calculated to avoid consequence management, writes Tebogo Khaas.
The polarising political magnetism of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema has percolated into open invitations to mutually assured self-destruction for anyone who dares to challenge him.
The battle for the soul of our nation couldn't be more pronounced, and perilous, than it currently is.
If you're worried, you should be. Let me explain.
The internet is a force for good. It is also a cesspool of dark forces that can be unleashed for terrible acts of violence. For far too long, Malema has been taking advantage of the potency, reach and instant gratification derived from his use of the internet and social media platforms, notably Twitter.
Just to illustrate the importance Malema attaches to social media platforms, it took the fear of revocation of his treasured Twitter account to bring him to apologise to journalist Karima Brown for inciting hate and fanning cyber harassments against her.
A glimpse of Malema's political rise could offer some valuable insights into the genesis of the hate that he purveys.
In her book Inconvenient Youth, journalist and author Fiona Forde describes how in 2011, then political outcast Malema's fortunes changed when "he became a political hero as the villain in a hate speech trial that was initiated by Afriforum over his singing of the struggle song 'Dubula iBhunu'. [This was] a court case that played right into his lap."
AfriForum, who hauled Malema to court on hate speech charges, unwittingly earned Malema considerable social and political currency as he vanquished the race-based organisation before a live television audience.
Current legal skirmishes between Malema and journalists, a substantial majority of whom are female, should be seen in the context of his penchant for using the courts and television as his gladiator arenas. It is conceivable that Malema thinks that the current Equality Court hate speech trial will also play into his lap. But he could be dead wrong!
Malema's ideology of hate and hyperbole, crucial to advancing his interests, is predicated on essentialism and political Darwinism. First, the essentialism doctrine that Malema espouses is not outright racial, xenophobic or classic misogynistic. In Malema's prism, the most important thing you need to know about a person is his or her race. Thus, identity is racial.
Members of other races and women outside his family circles are acceptable only to the extent that they may have an intrinsic value to him. For instance, he unashamedly protects and advances business interests of his white benefactor, controversial businessman Adriano Mazzotti.
Mazzotti, who is also Malema's neighbour and apparent landlord in the leafy suburb of Hyde Park, reportedly hijacked mining rights of an impoverished tribal community of Ga-Mphahlele in Limpopo with the backing of Malema's rural comtsotsis.
The irony of the EFF's signature campaign against so-called white monopoly capitalists seems lost to Malema.
As a troubled ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leader, a charming, almost obsequious Malema didn't demure to a televised dressing down by seasoned journalist Debra Patta. She interviewed him over his ostentatious lifestyle on an ANCYL stipend, and his role in tender improprieties that contributed to the bankruptcy of the Limpopo provincial government.
Patta had intrinsic value for an ambitious Malema who relished every media opportunity to project himself to a public bewildered by his ostensible rejection of acceptable social mores. Otherwise Malema is a downright misogynist. It is telling that his misogyny and increasingly hate-filled attacks seemed to ratchet up from polite to downright wicked with every passing on of his female life influences. As Malema's confidence and political power grew, he became more emboldened and disrespectful.
Second, Malema's EFF are engaged in a Darwinian struggle in which they try to out-reproduce or out-recruit, via social media platforms and political opportunism, their political rivals with their brand of "superior logic".
But the EFF's "superior logic" mantra is negated by Malema's inherent intolerance for dissenting views. It is not a mantra that rises out of self-confidence or altruism, but rather crafted to mask Malema and his deputies' innate insecurities.
The party leader eschews independent political thought, the interdependent nature of modern life, and his attacks on others is calculated to induce submission. It is hard to calculate the damage his overt misogyny and relentless attacks on those trying to strengthen our democracy are having on the fabric of our nation. Sadly, he doesn't seem to appreciate the gravity of societal problems that he fuels.
But the monster that Malema has become is largely a creature of the media itself.
In 2010 he insulted and ejected a white, male, foreign journalist from Luthuli House and no journalist protested, ostensibly because they were too paralysed to act, or figured they didn't fit the identity profile of the BBC journalist who had been humiliated.
The chilling words of Martin Niemöller ring loud. "First, they came for the communists…"
Over time, Malema perfected his divide and rule strategy through isolating, vilifying and neutralising journalists and politicians who are highly critical of him. The EFF and Malema are now using the same strategy to undermine trust and confidence in the judiciary.
Judges who rule against them are too often subjects of unwarranted ridicule, denigration, and aspersions cast on their competence by Malema and his apologists. Their race, gender and other irrelevant factors render them ripe for humiliation.
I dread the day when judges walk on eggshells every time they deliver adverse judgments against the EFF and its leaders.
Curiously, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, the judiciary and the legal fraternity seem paralysed to express disquiet, never mind reprimand EFF leaders for eroding public trust and confidence in the judiciary.
Malema knows what he's doing but stubbornly won't admit that there are real-world implications of the vile hate that he propagates. He must've learnt from fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who once said: "You can pluck a chicken one feather at a time, so that no one will notice."
The judiciary, fourth estate and civil society are crucial elements of the plumage adorning our Constitution. Malema mustn't dare to pluck the feathers of our Constitution thinking that we won't notice.
Just like Malema, journalists and judges are not perfect, of course. And although they may be accustomed to navigating unwarranted hostility from subjects of their trade, they do feel pain and hurt as well, especially when they are unfairly targeted, ridiculed or have their lives threatened.
Perhaps the most tangible difference between the Malema of "Kill the Boer" infamy and the Malema of today is that there exists incontrovertible evidence of his Twitter followers executing his threats.
It is mind-boggling that, on the one hand, Malema can command his unknown Twitter army to "cut out the heads" of journalists while, on the other hand, he pleads with the courts not to hold him vicariously liable for actions of the very unknown army he deploys at will.
It is in times like this that we need to reflect on the perilous nature of Malema's politics, and what a bigger societal malaise his 280-character missiles pose in the battle for the soul of our nation.
There are obvious enemies of our democracy who try to rip it apart, and the weavers of community and constitutionalism binding it together. Malema has chosen to hitch his fortunes with the former. We must deign his shameless invitation to a mutually assured self-destruction.
Malema poses one of the greatest national security challenges our democracy has ever faced. We shouldn't dismiss his persistent and pervasive threats to our nation as a mere irritation. It is conceivable that all this smoke and mirrors by Malema are calculated to avoid consequence management.
The ramifications of ignoring the risk he presents are dire, both domestically and internationally. I cannot speak out more forcefully against Malema's misogyny, hypocrisy, moral duplicity and propagation of hate.
Words matter. Words of a leader matter even more. They can stir up emotions. They can unleash the deepest, darkest forces of our nature. And they can send restless followers to cyber-war.
But just as important, words can also help heal and build our nation.
- Khaas is chairman of Corporate SA, a strategic advisory consultancy. Follow him on Twitter @tebogokhaas
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