Brad Cibane
Brad Cibane

Malema still holds us captive

Laura Fitzpatrick in a Time Magazine article explained the phenomenon commonly known as “the Stockholm syndrome”. She explained that the syndrome is ”the phenomenon in which victims display compassion for and even loyalty to their captors”. Sound familiar?

It’s been over a year since our unrelenting saviour put Julius Malema’s political career to rest. Even after the National Disciplinary Committee of Appeals and National Executive Committee put nails to the coffin, it seems there is no national sigh of relief or billboards hailing our miraculous saviour. If anything — and only the truly brave are willing to admit — we secretly miss Malema.

Malaika Wa Azania recently appealed to us not to “throw Malema into the dustbin of history.” But Wa Azania is not alone. Protesting Marikana mineworkers reportedly greeted Malema with cheer while they heckled President Jacob Zuma. Even the riotous Sasolburg protesters apparently pleaded for Malema to make an appearance.

So if Malema was a plague that tormented us since 2008, why do we secretly miss him? If his cause was nothing but lunacy and a con for self-enrichment, why does it resonate more than a year after his departure? Maybe it’s time we admitted we cannot determine whether Malema was “good” or “bad” simply by how he makes us feel.

First we must admit that Malema is no Obama, he is no 1944 Mandela either. While the cause of the ANC Youth League against a complicit mother body is very similar to the cause of the Young Turks that led to the formation of the Youth League in 1944, the methods were very different. Malema was less benign in his cause and more inclined to abuse the cause for self-enrichment.

That being said, Malema had something for every South African. For the ultra-right white conservatives Malema was a walking exhibition of “die swart gevaar”. He was proof to the world that the fear was justified. I suspect he made many people reconsider exodus to Perth and Ontario. For the ultra-left Marxist/socialist, Malema was the missing voice. He was the firebrand the left needed to keep its cause afloat. For the liberals, Malema was the alarm bell that they’ve been sounding since before Steve Biko. He was an affirmation of their call for compromise. For comedians, Malema was a lot of material.

Most important, however, was Malema’s effect on the ordinary, open-minded and politically-unaligned South African. To these South Africans who escaped the hold of the past, and tried each day to forget it, Malema was a window opening. He was a reminder that South Africa didn’t go to bed as a wounded society on April 26 1994 and then wake up miraculously healed on May 10 1994.

If someone like Malema can get the nation to rally behind his cause, if he can get scores of youths to chant “we will kill” — something is seriously wrong. The rather obvious diagnosis that something is wrong raises further questions.

I suggest the starting point in our search for the ”something” must be Malema’s politics. Malema shot to mainstream fame (outside the ANC) when the youth league, under his leadership, formulated the “Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime” campaign. As Eusebius McKaiser and Ebrahim Fakir point out, the campaign headline made it rather incongruous. At an ideological level “economic freedom” means the opposite of what Malema and the ANCYL intended. But not many people are concerned with ideological congruity.

To the ordinary ”sophisticated” South African, the notion of “economic freedom” rings alarm bells for two reasons. Firstly, because the campaign relied exclusively on the now-defunct provisions of the Freedom Charter that call for state ownership. Experience has taught South Africans that the government is not the best owner of economic entities. Secondly, the campaign sought inspiration from the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Despite the word “Democratic,” the NDR has its roots in Vladimir Lenin’s theory of imperialism and is considered by many to be a communist or socialist ideal.

But what if we discarded the rhetoric and salvaged the message of the youth league? The youth league essentially wanted what many South Africans want: 1) Equal sharing of natural resources. This is fair because according the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the Mining Charter natural resources belong to all South Africans. 2) Fair distribution and equal ownership of land. This is not an unreasonable request because those who own land today did not obtain it through sweat and tears but through Land Act usurpation and Land Bank Act subsidies. 3) Empowerment of groups disempowered by more than three centuries of domination. 4) Quality education. Now this is a far-fetched dream!

To conclude, I think the reason we miss Malema is because he did more than just hold us captive. He was the intervention we need to save us from ourselves.

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