Manqoba Nxumalo
Manqoba Nxumalo

The Malema conundrum

Julius Malema is such a polarising figure. We loathe and love him in equal measure. He shakes us in our comfort zones by confronting the compromises of our leaders. He makes us discuss, yet again, what the liberation struggle was about. Did political power for the black government mean an end to apartheid and the legacy it bequeathed? This is what society is discussing, thanks to Malema. Even the apolitical youth find themselves discussing politics, whether agreeing with him or not is immaterial. You either hate or love me. You are seldom in-between.

It is Malema who dusted the Freedom Charter from the archives of the ANC and brought it back to national discourse. It was Malema who took the politics of the SACP and merged it with that of the PAC and bam came the Economic Freedom Fighters. He has woven the radicalism of such stalwarts as Peter Mokaba and the late Steve Biko. Perhaps that is why Andile Mngxitama praises the EFF as the organisation where the children of OR Tambo, Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe are worshipping under the same roof for the first time.

While he reminds us of the promises of the liberation struggle he also scares us of a possible fascist future, perceived or real. This is why Max du Preez simply cannot understand what attracts nice people to the EFF. It is easy to attribute the surge of the EFF to Malema’s eloquence and ability to capture audiences with rhetoric.

We can also say that he is feeding on the carcass of the disbanded youth league and a weakened, divided Cosatu. But it is the response of white society to Malema’s politics that makes nice people join or support the EFF. Each time the word Malema is mentioned in newspapers and social media, white people go on a tirade reminding us of his previous opulence, crass materialism, tax evasion, dodgy deals and “corruption” as disqualifying him to speak for the poor, as if those who follow him are so stupid they don’t know this.

This is racist, it seeks to present black people as nitwits, not discerning enough to see even when they are being duped in broad daylight by charlatans like Malema. I have read many online comments about the EFF. They are never about its policies but degenerate to disparaging remarks about Malema the person in the same way that Zuma is mocked and insulted as a brainless nincompoop not worthy of leading this country.

I agree, we can never explain the EFF or even the ANC outside of the behaviour, utterances and conduct of its leaders. But there has to be a point where we draw the line and are able to appreciate that “nice” people can join the EFF or even the ANC convinced of its policies and not per se the leader. As Dali Mpofu recently stated, he disagrees with Malema on many things but in so far as he needs to fight the right-wing policies of the ANC he struck a tactical alliance with him. To question those who join the EFF given the cloud hanging over Malema’s head is to suggest black people have no brains to make informed choices.

I have no doubt in my mind that Zuma and Malema are not the best the country can produce but I reckon black people refuse to be told by their previous oppressors what is best for them. For example, I am one of the few people who have never understood why Zapiro continues to depict Zuma with a showerhead except to mock and ridicule him despite him holding the revered office of president. He said stupid things about HIV and the shower, I can hear you say. He apologised and I believe we forgave him, just as we forgave all those previous apartheid leaders.

It is these things that polarise race-relations in the country, particularly given how deep the scars of the past are. I think white people would do a good service to the country if they engaged and told us why land redistribution, nationalisation etc is wrong and stop playing the man. While still at it, they could also deal with Zuma and his performance as head of state. If this is not done I fear black people will continue to think white society wants to “monitor” and “supervise” them lest they make the wrong political choices. I remember an interview with Malema on SABC2 a few years ago. He was asked about his Breitling watch and how he was able to afford it.

Malema gave a coy smile and bellowed: “I have refused to discuss my watch because no one knows whether I bought it or if it was given to me. Whenever a black man is having something that white people think are an entitlement only to their kith and kin, they have to question us because in their minds we can never afford these things unless we are corrupt.” This response got me thinking about the attitudes we have of each other. The unfortunate part is that Malema indeed is an arrogant and browbeating cocky rooster whose shady past disqualifies him to claim the left space. But black people don’t want to be told this by white people.

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    • Mr. Direct


      Malema is an alternative vote for the poor people of this country. This is why he is feared by the ANC.

      DA is too white, Cope is too disorganised, Agang is too rich. Malema – just right…

      I’ll leave out my opinion on the current ANC and EFF leadership because you do not want to hear it. That is fine with me, I do not really want to write it either.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      Wether one agrees with Malema or not, he isn’t afraid to speak out issues that matters.
      The other opposition parties should be as vocal as he is and for some reason most of them are silence as a lamb.

    • Antonio Tonin

      Yes we forgave those apartheid leaders, which was ethically and morally the right thing to do. But we also got rid of them as leaders, which is the key point here!

    • Alastair Grant

      Your last sentence says it all, Manqoba.

    • Freddie de Lange

      Very good piece…

    • xsanga

      I support Malema. He is the only one not hiding our past that caused our present dysfunction. It is apartheid and the white economy that has created black mass poverty and suffering. Economic apartheid is the real problem our government is maintaining in the interest of their families

    • Amai

      It is highly ironic that Mr Malema’s party pretends to be a party for economic emancipation with a leftist veneer, rather than positioning itself simply as a fascist party based on racial nationalist principles, which it is. The core values of the ruling elite in SA, and of Mr Malema’s party which is a child of the ANC, are grievance and entitlement. These translate into odd economic policies – a mixture of parasite statism (couched as a ‘developmental’ state), clamps placed on individual freedom, both political and economic, and a desire to withdraw from global free markets under the cover of trade barriers and protectionism. No country in history has ever succeeded economically with these values. Grievance and entitlement have destroyed several economies, but have had not one single success. Yet these remain core values not only of Mr Malema’s party but of the current ruling party. Coincidentally, SA’s growth forecast this year has recently been downgraded from a poor 2% to an even more appalling 0.5% – in a continent averaging 5% growth.

    • Wondering…

      EFFers want everything for free. That is the problem I have with them. They think white people didn’t, and continue not to, work for our possessions.That we stole it or were given things just because we are white.
      Under EFF rule we will become Zimbabwe much quicker than under ANC.

    • Davebee

      Strange that the author seems to have left out the sloganeering/political platform of KILLING FARMERS sung at full volume by both Malema and his EFF.
      Also, did anyone notice that EFF on the www is ‘occupied’? Julius has a problem there, that’s for sure.

    • Mike

      @ Manqoba

      You asked to be told why nationalisation is a bad idea, well here goes:

      We have experiences ranging from the Soviet Union through to post war Britain as to just how damaging nationalisation proved to be for those countries.

      In South Africa we see companies like SA Breweries, Steers, FNB etc, who are able to deliver quality products at competitive prices to all corners of the country. While state owned entities like Eskom, Transnet and the Department of Basic Education cannot keep the lights on, trains running or books delivered, despite these being easy to deliver products or services.

      All the while, our privately run companies pay huge amounts of tax to the treasury which could be used for social spending if it wasn’t being used to bail out the state owned companies.

    • PrettyBelinda

      What seperates us as humans from all other kingdoms of creation is the gift or the ability to plan. Problems reign when solutions are ignored….we have become the victims of change and in the last twenty years done little to change the prevailing idea or conditions of second class citizen. Malema speaks to the heart of this citizen, its not new that very nice people….those living on the periphery of society finds hope in the charismatic EFF leader. 2014 and onwards will be very interesting years. Crucial for the EFF is how in the coming years cadres and citizens are groomed to take over key sectors and implement the manifesto

    • Tofolux

      It is quite evident that our social discourse has become so banal and so fickle and I wonder if this is not as a result the dumbing down by some whom others would refer to as the fourth estate? @ Manqoba, you should try and access some information written or otherwise on the eg as experienced by the Bolivian socialist President, Evo Morales when he and yes especially when he took office. The sheer challenge of governing, the sheer challenge of poverty, inequality and discrimination coupled with NO money, would be a wonderful reflection for the likes of yourself,Mpofu and juju. That said, I wonder how that experience would test the claims by yourself, Mpofu,juju and other cynics, My gogo always said, be careful what you wish for hence test your claims against other experiences and lets engage objectively.

    • Goodman

      I am one hundred percent with Manqoba when he says: ‘I am one of the few people who have never understood why Zapiro continues to depict Zuma with a showerhead except to mock and ridicule him despite him holding the revered office of president. He said stupid things about HIV and the shower, I can hear you say. He apologised and I believe we forgave him, just as we forgave all those previous apartheid leaders. It is these things that polarise race-relations in the country, particularly given how deep the scars of the past are’. I for myself believe without a doubt that the media would never have treated President Zuma with such prolonged intense hatred if he were white. The main cause of the deteriorating race relations in this country is the undisguised partisan media – especially print media.

    • Tshepo Masiloane

      Malema let money or riches got in his head,he was suppose to humble himself ,further his academic knowledge as he is doing now and wait for his time in the top ranks of the ANC where he is suppose to deliver towards economic development of our people.He had just left the movement meant to free Africa to start a party that will benefit few including himself a waisted vote so to speak.ANC is our heritage, it is the only thing that we are left with to point and say it is ours.We need to correct whatever wrongs within without destroying it and lastly mfanakithi we need to defend it.

    • http://[email protected] thembinkosi nonkosi

      what a balance in opinion

    • Cam Cameron

      Oh, come on! Harden up. You’re surely not suggesting that white people have lost the right to hold ruling nitwits and nincompoops up to ridicule purely because they happen to be black, do you? Melanin isn’t a magical force-field.

      And what sort of childish clod would vote EFF or ANC not for their policies or promises but only because white people have open contempt for their leaders?

    • marks

      great piece well thought and written.

    • Danny

      great piece,…got me down memory lane…

    • Sacksinthecity

      Interesting read. I can understand Malema’s core principles. I do not believe he will add value to South Africa as a country at a time when our country requires responsible and considered leaders.

      What you refer to as racism though is really these so called ‘white people’ not being afraid to call a spade a spade. Zuma’s administration has overseen a depressing decay in the economy and growth, heavily impacted by uncontrollable corruption malfeasance and mismanagement, at a time when stability, job creation and education should be main priorities. Certainly not R200 million compounds.

      As you said “I have no doubt in my mind that Zuma and Malema are not the best the country can produce” You are 1000% correct. So why should South Africa actually accept that standard then? Anyone can tell you that – not only white people.

    • Jane

      The only good thing about the EFF is that it has put the poorest of the poor and marginalized unemployed to the forefront and forced the ANC to consider them seriously, instead of dismissing them.

      Having EFF around to consistently force the ANC to have a conscience and deal with those on the fringe and unemployed will be a good thing for the country in the long run, because it deals with the reality of what is happening now in all those informal settlements. The unemployed and poor are not going away – they are here to stay and the ANC has to deal with what them now, or EFF will deal with them and win more and more support.

      The ANC either takes care of this problem or it will fester and grow, which is just what EFF wants.

    • Paul S

      The sad fact is that both black and white are wrong about Malema and his party. Just about every white with an opinion out there has no CLUE how black folk think in SA and mask their fear with flippant and abusive observations. Bottom line is the EFF, or some derivation of it, is going to happen and in a big way. And I’m not even remotely a supporter. Whites need to realize their time on top of the pile in SA is over, and they had better start being a lot more conciliatory in their thinking and actions.
      The big mistake the black supporters are making is in thinking that Malema will ‘liberate’ them in the long run. Sure, they may get some land and white-owned assets if the revolution happens, but that will do nothing for long-run stability and the economy will collapse a la Zimbabwe. But the unhappy masses aren’t thinking about this scenario at all…they want something to grab onto, and they want it now.

    • BrianB

      The problem lies not only with whites utterances of dismay with the state of the nation and black reaction. its not that simple.

      It lies rather within the failure of leaders to serve their people and with people ,of various backgrounds tolerating the status quo and not holding leaders to account.

      Malema is just another blast of foul air in the downward spiral

      Let’s tear up the racial card raise our awareness and lift ourselves up.

    • Mikhail Dworkin Fassbinder

      Manqoba, you are right. Whites could easily make blacks think anything they want them to Whites should lavish Malema with praise. They will drop Malema like a hot potato. If the DA was farsighted it would vigorously support Mr McBride. And the best thing Zille could do for Madosela would be demand that she be fired!

    • Conrad

      EFF/Malema’s contribution to SA politics: Black-White this-that, White-Black don’t this-that, Black-Black-Black this-that, White, White this-that, Black, Black, White….. Gets really tiresome, Manqo.

      Remember the slogans of the bad old days when the nats were abusing the colour of one’s skin? ‘There is only one race, the human race’ – that warm feeling of togetherness and solidarity against injustice. Makes one feel sorta nostalgic, doesn’t it?

      So many intelligent young people supporting the EFF , the likes of Malema and other champagne consumers (yes, its about personalities and what individuals do with their lives also) – so much disdain, barely hidden hatred. So much that is familiar about this new populist facism, a kind that Eugene Terreblanche knew well. Whites this, whites that with a twisted mouth & Shona accent.

      A possible future, Manqo: Some day, after much violence, your children will ask you what you did to resist those who would melt down and strip bare this country. Your response probably (I’m guessing now) ‘whites this, whites that’, zombi-like.

    • DeeGee

      Malema’s rhetoric and his desired lifestyle seem very incongruous to me. So, the only conclusion I can draw is that the EFF was established for the sole purpose of garnering enough votes so that Malema and a few of his carefully selected mates can continue suckling on the teet (but instead of being involved in dodgy tenders this time, he’ll be on the public payroll, so still ripping taxpayers off). The only work he has to do between now and the election is convince enough people to vote for him. Which he will succeed in doing by promising the unattainable. And Bob’s your uncle. Come on, we’ve all seen the photos in parliament of MPs asleep. Who wouldn’t want to be paid to sleep on the job?

    • http://na Majesty Mnyandu

      The most racist thing to do will be to ignore race. Asking us to not say white this black that is not fair if you honest about caring about humanity. Human beings eat food live on land survive through industry. Blacks hardly control the supply and distribution of these which makes being alive painful for them. asking me not to question the imbalance of material possession in the world sounds very unfair to me. Saying there is only one race the human race is the truth that can not be true for now untill wealth is equally distributed. Asking me to quiet sit next to you in the cold whilst you are dressed and I am naked is the deepest insult. hence I say the most race thing that can be suggested is to ask me to ignore race.

    • Yaj

      good piece.
      Malema does present a conundrum.

      If only the ANC could apologise for its mistakes in adopting failed neoliberal policies that have widened inequality in this country and renounce the same failed ideas of the NDP, then this potential demagogue may be neutralised.

      In so far as he keeps this hope alive, his rantings and popularity may serve a useful purpose in the struggle for economic sovereignty, emancipation and freedom from poverty, deprivation and exploitation.