This is how social media images of a country inform one’s perceptions, and then stick like glue in this instant-info “Gutenberg Galaxy” of ours. You scroll through Google News, Facebook and Twitter, and powerful impressions of countries impinge on your subconscious without you being able to question them. Then you “form” an unmediated and indelible impression of different nations based on selected info-bytes. For example, in my case: South Africa bad. China bad. New Zealand good. Switzerland good. I lived in China for seven years and enjoyed it mostly; now that I live outside of it, I shudder, because of the selected and massaged online news traffic flow. I am scared to ever return to China. The same goes for South Africa, the country I was raised in and left at the age of 41.
It is in this light that I, now an outsider to South Africa for nearly 11 years, getting on with life here in New Zealand, have an image of South Africa that people living in the country cannot have. For example, I might be gardening here in Auckland. I get called into the house to look at the new spotlight on South Africa on TV or a new YouTube clip. After a moment I guffaw or scowl, shake my head, and go back to my rake and hedge clippers in the garden. (The Hobbiton-like imagery is deliberate.)
Perceptions are fickle but regarded as cast-in-concrete truths. In the world of foreign investment and international business, perceptions are all important. So I would argue that this outsider perception of mine has a worthwhile insight. Including the honourable Julius Malema, who, in my mind, is now a hero.
I love to watch the latest Malema antics. Oh, I laugh the way I would cackle at a Leon Schuster spoof, without feeling I need to know the details of the exact political context in which he is spewing forth hilarious, rude and abrasive commentary. A week ago I saw on a Facebook page one of the now famous clips of the Men in Red and Hardhats being booted out of Parliament. Boy, removing these hefty gentlemen and one or two ladies in doeks takes some doing. The EFF MPs are fairly big even by Maori standards. In terms of the context all I could gather was that the hullabaloo had something to do with — to put it mildly — irking Thandi Modise. I posted the clip to my Facebook page, using typical (again, unmediated) Facebook language, “bwahahahaha … that clown Malema at it again in parliament … ”.
The upshot for my online social circles? I was unfriended by more than one old South African mate. I was peppered with a number of aggrieved remarks posted by other Saffas. “It’s not funny, Rod, our country is a mess.” “The video makes me want to cry, we didn’t fight for this.” “You enjoying your Schadenfreude over there in New Zealand Rod? Shame on you.” No prize for guessing that all those offended, outraged commentators still live in South Africa. Other Saffas commenting on my post were expats. Other commentators, consciousnesses impinged on without mediation as they crouch over their smartphones somewhere in the world, remarked, hmmm, South Africa is in a bit of a pickle.
All of which led me to take a closer look at Sona and the gutsy actions of Malema, Floyd Shivambu, Reneilwe Mashabela and other members of the Justice League of South Africa. I developed a respect for Malema and his party that I never thought I would ever have. They had sheer guts to stand up in Parliament, call Zuma a thief, even a “great thief”, “the greatest in the world”. They refused to sit down even when ordered to, or face being removed (“relieve them from the house! [sic]”). They were even physically threatened. Nevertheless, heroic fists banging against heroic chests, they continued to demand that Jacob Zuma, return the Nkandla money. “Pay back the money” they bellowed, despite repeated warnings to stop. They were brutally manhandled into leaving (Mashabela screaming “don’t touch me”) and this was done risking injury to themselves (“they even pulled on our private parts” as Malema was to later on say with boyish, insouciant relish). They even risked facing imprisonment. Yes, my warrior heart was stirred. The Men and Women in Red made the rest of the opposition parties look like drippy wusses with their nerdy wishes to “debate” the “issues”. The entire brouhaha is made bitterly poignant with the image of Madiba in a corner of your screen on the YouTube clip.
Malema and EFF declared by their actions the time was over to pussyfoot around with “reasonable” “debate” and “reasonable” attempts to resuscitate a long-dead democracy. The time has come, to contradict another writer, for the “dangerous precedent” of bringing chaos. Wholesale disruption and militant opposition are needed in a political situation where equally wholesale corruption, cronyism, intimidation, a failing national power grid and utter disregard for the needs of the poor or even the middle class are the norm. To obey the so-called “order, order” called for at the Sona is to give in. It is to meekly accept the obscene greed and corruption of the so-called leadership of the ANC. To “debate these issues” is a thing of the past. Debate now? Debate what? That is asking to get screwed, but please just use Vaseline.
And so a fresh perception is hopefully being etched onto the global consciousness. There are people in South Africa with balls to stand up to Zuma and his nauseating giggle. These men wear a communist, working-class red and are not afraid to be coarse and almost literally spit in the president’s face. EFF made the other MPs look like old ducks at a tea party. For the time being — as dangerous, and genetically designed to be a dictator as I believe Malema is, he is a hero, along with his wrecking crew.