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How South Africa created Malemas and how it is killing them

Imagine yourself as a youth in the June 1976 Soweto riots. You are young and you have dreams; selfish dreams about yourself as a free man (or woman) and a full citizen of a free nation. Desperation, pain and death surround you. You realise that you have only two options: freedom or death. Death, in any event, is the ultimate freedom. All you have in your hands is a large rock that you wish to throw as close as possible to an apartheid officer. If luck has it, you’ll make him bleed. This is not a death wish; it‘s your contribution to humanity.

You spot an officer. He is aiming a rifle at you; not the perfect target but he will do just fine. You raise your arm to throw the stone. You are certain that he won’t hesitate to shoot you down, but before he shoots you … he must feel the wrath of your stone.

Now freeze this black and white frame (pun intended). The officer is on one knee aiming a rifle at a youth who has a stone raised at him (this is surely one for the museums). Look again at the picture and ask yourself: what drives this youth?

At some point in our history the liberation movement depended on such youth. These youths were the fearless bulldogs of the guerrilla movement. They were sought out and injected with the liberation venom which induced their thirst for freedom. They were baptised with necessary hatred of “whiteness” and “white privilege”. The principal pillar of their order was loyalty to the liberation movement, its leaders and its ideas. The ideas were cast in the liberation movement’s bible: the Freedom Charter.

The international financiers of apartheid became alarmed at the apartheid regime’s bill and they shut off the money source. Oppression does not come cheap and the apartheid regime crumbled under the financial distress. So it changed its method, put down its guns and called the liberation movement to the table. It was time for a different battle fought with pens, paper and intellect. The guerrilla youth became obsolete.

After their absolution the guerrilla youth became toxic waste, not just for Tutu’s pretend “rainbow nation” but for the ANC’s own mandate. Their bible, the Freedom Charter, became worthless. Overnight, their mortal enemy, “whiteness” and “white privilege”, became a national aspiration. Everything else was shelved. At first the ANC cared enough to pretend. It adopted the reconstruction and development programme and was mum about nationalisation. The pretence stopped with growth, employment and redistribution policy.

The issue becomes more complex. Before 1994 South African wealth — be it private or national wealth — was regarded to consist of illegitimate spoils from the plunder and oppression of the black masses. One central pillar of the liberation movement was the recapture of wealth. This is precisely why the Freedom Charter provides that: “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; all other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.”

The liberation movement did not bother to amend these provisions. On one hand the ANC has consistently reaffirmed its adherence to the Freedom Charter; on the other hand it has vehemently rejected its provision of nationalisation of wealth.

Thus, while wealth (private or public) became legitimate in the eyes of the elite, which participated in the negotiations and can now participate in the new liberal economy, the old guerrillas were left to sustain themselves by other means — corruption (literally: abuse of their power).

The problem is compounded by the fact that pre-1994 Bantu Education was not “education for education’s-sake”. It was education for sustenance. Thus, here was the old guerrilla youth, without skills, poor but politically capable. Capitalism says use whatever capital you have to make wealth. Their capital was political power.

Julius Malema is, in my view, such a youth. Reports say he joined the ANC at the age of nine or ten. He speaks the liberation movement’s vernacular and he acts with the liberation movement’s temperament, but the liberation movement no longer has use for him.

Malema is not just one man because there are many like him. Say we take Malema down; we burry him in tax laws and corruption laws … what then? Do we expect that a Harvard graduate with a silk tongue and Victorian manners will take his place? No. Not that there are no black Harvard graduates, but they are too busy cleaving black economic empowerment benefits to care about youth politics. Another Malema will come up in Malema’s place and we can’t silence them all.

The solution is harder and needs more effort, something politicians are not fond of. It requires the ANC to be honest about its position on the Freedom Charter and to be honest about its economic, political and social policies. Further, the solution requires that the ANC train its youth with something more than Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela sing-along songs.



  1. Lennon Lennon 15 May 2013

    Malema was conveniently given free reign until he started pointing out some hard truths which the powers-that-be didn’t want to hear as it put them in the firing line.

  2. Tofolux Tofolux 15 May 2013

    @Brad, it is quite obvious that you were never part of an organisation, part of an organised ideology, part of determination of codes of conduct, part of organisational identity etc. One fact that you fail to mention iro the ANC 100yr history is the issue of individualism vs the collective. This has been part exposed in the media’s campaign where it sought to isolate one individual from a collective. I also think that is was Malema who raised a valid point that the ANC is not an ”idols” contest. The second issue is that you have obviously not interrogated any youth who participated in the 1976 riots to ascertain the nature and conditions of the struggle ie making the point of their contribution during a 350yr struggle against oppresion. But clearly you have no clue of knowing what a ruling party does, when it rules.You also conveniently forgot that our democracy is part of a negotiated settlement ie pre-codesa and post codesa.This lack of interrogation points to a fundamental error that some make when it attempts to diagnose the SA conditions and it poses a particular question why media eg Al Jazeer always has a different conclusion on African politics and its social conditions.

  3. Zeph Zeph 15 May 2013

    The Freedom Charter was good for a liberation movemnet to aspire towards but it is not such a nice document when you hold the power.

  4. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 15 May 2013

    You are speaking about the ‘lost generation’. That lost generation isn’t the big problem, it is the continuous stream of ‘lost generations’ that we are still producing. What are the odds that a young girl in a Limpopo rural public school will one day become a lead surgeon or an engineer? Her best hope is that she will have enough children to collect child grants until she is old enough to collect pension.

    Malema was a political tool. His rudeness and crudeness was used, and when his political leash became too hard to hold onto, he was dumped. If Malema cared for the freedom charter or any of the principles he claimed to stand for, he would never have been part of stealing from the the very people he claimed to represent. He was no victim in all this.

  5. Comrade Koos Comrade Koos 15 May 2013

    Brilliant brilliant article.

    Last paragraph a fitting conclusion to this well thought out article: “The solution is harder and needs more effort, something politicians are not fond of. It requires the ANC to be honest about its position on the Freedom Charter and to be honest about its economic, political and social policies. Further, the solution requires that the ANC train its youth with something more than Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela sing-along songs.”

    Please let the Rainbow Nation succeed.That is not too much to ask.

  6. manquat manquat 16 May 2013

    When will all the talk change into delivery? When will the money for the youth wage subsidy be spent? I think the major problem SA has is that we are not growing fast enough. We need a lot of economic growth to train unskilled youths and create an environment for businesses and new start ups to grow and absorb the millions of unskilled and unemployed youth.

    That guy who robbed you or assualted you is a product of unemployment and meaninglessness. It is in all South African’s interests to train and employ our youth. When we’ve reached full employment, the crime rates and social ills that we face will plummet.

  7. Joe Malapela Joe Malapela 16 May 2013

    I wish I could say that Brad is wrong! The truth is that he is so right. The issue of wealth inequality in our country must be rectified. In my view of minerals/mines, properly carried out, would also help to normalise the wealth inbalances currently taking place in South Africa.

    Many years ago I was conducting a focus group discussion among teenagers in Soweto. Issues of poverty and and affordability came up and one particular young man said, ” we black kids come from poor homes and go to poorly equiped schools. Almost every weekend we go the city alone or with our parents where we are confronted with abundance of wealth and obviously rich whites. This is demonstrated by the number grocery trolleys they push in the supermarkets, the cars they drive and their homes in the suburbs. It is unfair and immoral to expect us blacks to go back to the dusty townships and say everything is alright”. He was also so right!

  8. MrK MrK 16 May 2013


    ” When will all the talk change into delivery? ”

    1) When will the mines be nationalized or taxed so heavily that there is they might as well be nationalized?

    2) How will the government survive going up against the mine ownership (NM Rothschild & Sons in London, in the case of De Beers) without seeing a repeat of what was done to Zimbabwe for doing the same? (Actually Zimbabwe did something close to nationalisation – they redistributed land owned by the mine owners, like the 117,000 hectare Debshan Ranch that was owned by De Beers.)

    3) What will the reprisals be?

    You can already hear them going: Jacob Zuma has 5 wifes, how can he have 5 wifes when the people are starving? Why do his wifes shop in Paris and Milan when the people are poor?

    The advantage that South Africa has is that it has a much bigger economy than Zimbabwe, and can withstand even more pressure, if it has a leadership of the backbone and ideological strength of Robert Mugabe.

    It will be difficult to keep South Africa from selling it’s gold, they way Zimbabwe was hindered in selling it’s diamonds. On the other hand, they are keeping Iran from selling it’s oil, even to Russia and China, which are it’s allies.

    They will try to go on and on about the level of crime, which they will relentlessly blame on the government.

  9. MrK MrK 16 May 2013

    (Continued…) However, if South Africa perseveres, it will have billions of dollars to put into infrastructure, agriculture, education, healthcare, which is the job of government. The result would be to reduce unemployment to under 5%, raise literacy levels to Zimbabwean levels (92%) or higher, and actually develop the countryside and small scale agriculture.

  10. Stan Stan 16 May 2013

    Good one Brad , there is no single precise approach to tackling and outlinning the issues we as the youth generation and as citizens are facing but one thing for sure showing an interest on such at this moment shows an indication that there is stil hope for this country based upon existence of such intellectual capacity.

  11. fonebone fonebone 17 May 2013

    Spot on Brad.

    The contradiction of the current elites’ rabid addiction to crony capatalism vs. the lofty ideals of national socialism laid out in the freedom charter are so glaringly obvious to all, we’ve become the international laughing stock (yet again).

    For just how much longer can the ruling party run with the capiltalist dogs and hunt with the marxist wolves before the inevitable class war finally erupts and the whole country blows up in our faces?
    Talk about fiddling while Nkandla burns.

  12. fonebone fonebone 17 May 2013

    Perhaps Joe,

    but is it not simplistic and lazy that we in South Africa repeatedly misidentify class inequality as pure racial inequality (where in fact we have an abundance of both).

    What about the obviously rich black elites with full Woolies shopping trollies driving their BMW X6’s to their multimillion rand homes in Sandton?…. (Juju until very recently included).
    I guess it’s “their turn to eat”, huh?

  13. Abra Abra 17 May 2013

    I find this article very true and encouraging to most black south africans including me. Our be loved ANC is no longer living to the principle of freedom charter since is in power. In south africa today we have high volume of unmployment while our country is the richest in minerals but the goverment is doing nothing about it. Malema and his group were right, they were representing what the freedom charter says but he is being punished for that. Our goverment should play a leading direction in creating sustainable employment than relaying on the investors from outside. That is the reason today they only implement the policies that make the investors happy not the country.

  14. Unapologetic Unapologetic 18 May 2013

    So…. What happened to the officer, did the stone hit him?

  15. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 18 May 2013

    @Abra, Russia is loaded with natural resources and the people in Russia don’t have a high standard of living. The Russians for the first time are using their resources to make world class goods to compete in the world market, and the people standard of living have been going up. SA/Africa have not been using their resources to make world class goods, and this is why the people are poor all over Africa. If the state would take control of all of the land and resources the people would still be poor in SA.

  16. Kgositsile Mokgosi Kgositsile Mokgosi 18 May 2013

    No doubt inability to think outside the ANC is narrow mindedness which actually becomes quite crass when it is displayed with inaccuracies. Make your point Mister but 1976 had absolutely nothing to do with the ANC which only heard of what was happening from newspapers and other media. The mindset of the 1976 crowd at time of the riots was that they were “black” and they had the “power” to change their human condition. They were not looking for “rights” from anybody. They did not even know the Freedom Charter, their religion was Black Consciousness and the high priest Steve Biko. Only those who went into exile were forcibly “cured” of the BC tendencies something that never succeeded with the leader of the 1976 crowd Tsietsi Mashinini. Know that you are a liar if you associate 1976 with the ANC. Probably if you woke up some of those who died at the time would not know what you are talking about.


  17. Laurence Laurence 19 May 2013

    when the ANC make schools, hospitals and clinics, available to ALL, rural especially, then we know that it has re-found its principles.

    when the politicians stop making themselves comfortable as their first priority, and address the needs of the people first, then we believe the ANC again.

    but we currently see none of this. all this talk and analogy and philosophising does nothing.

    their is only action left to demonstrate that the ANC has actually turned back from the greed and corruption and lack of care which has overwhelmed the politicians at every level.

    action: jail the corrupt, build the schools, clinics and hospitals. just do it.

  18. Marie Marie 1 June 2013

    Brad, I like what you say and agree hole-heartedly. Let me add: Freedom charters and a good Constitiution are useless when the amount of money captivated by a few, like the unproductive BEE receptiants, the municipal thieves, certain leaders with too many wives and costly homes, etc, etc (I could go on forever) are allowed. It is unacceptable in a land where there is a massive need for upliftment. Education, work oppertunities and hope for a better future is what the Malemas of today need. You are one of many forward thinkers. Keep on talking and writing. Get up there into a leadership position and change your world for the better. Remember, it’s not me the ‘whitie’ suffering, but your brothers. They are no better off under a black government. Don’t go on blaming the past, change the future. Good luck.

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