I was at Mbare township’s netball complex on Saturday April 3 2010 for ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s rally. Mbare is Zimbabwe’s oldest high-density suburb and is also one of the areas that suffered tremendously from the Robert Mugabe regime’s shameful Operation Murambatsvina or Operation Get Rid of Filth, which left thousands of Zimbabweans homeless in the winter of 2005.
That fact was lost, however, to Malema’s hosts, members of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) youth league. Among them was Saviour Kasukuwere, minister of youth development and indigenisation whose rather unpopular and controversial regulations on indigenisation have virtually been confirmed as national policy. The youthful minister is unwavering in his bid for the state to takeover key foreign-owned business entities, including banks.
If Kasukuwere, on the rally day, dressed in a Zanu-PF t-shirt bearing the clenched fist of Robert Mugabe, blue jeans and a Fidel Castro-like military cap meant to communicate young people’s appreciation of the liberation struggle, then Julius Malema’s entrance was meant to speak to the expensive tastes those very same young people ‘growing up’ in the structures of revolutionary parties have acquired. Such is the neo-colonial trait of comrades who condemn all things capitalist while swimming in the very same luxuries themselves.
Malema arrived in a Mercedes Benz GL500. The sleek SUV bears personalised registration, “Zhuwawo”, and belongs to the Zanu-PF director of youth and politburo member Patrick Zhuwawo who is also President Mugabe’s nephew. Malema’s entourage – the usual suspects – followed behind in Range Rovers, VX Land Cruisers and S-Class Mercedes Benz vehicles.
The genius of young comrades like Malema and Kasukuwere is that they have, in the most cunning way, clutched at the regional liberation discourse even though they did not fire AK-47s or dodge landmines themselves. In addition to belonging to the right political parties, they have done one better by also amplifying how radical those who actually fought colonial and apartheid oppression were and arguing that change – political freedom – was won as a result of that radicalism and militancy, not negotiations in air-conditioned conference rooms.
Therefore, they insist that the new war of “economic freedom in our lifetime” must be guided by the very same principles and executed with the same military precision that defeated such oppression. In doing so, however, they willingly spread uncertainty, usher in speculation on the stock market and eventually shake investor confidence. Times have changed.
There was once a man just as young who had exactly the same ideas and radical approach. The only difference was that he was no hypocrite; he didn’t preach water while he drank expensive red wine and cognac in his private comfort. He became a living example of his ideas, delivered on his promise to bring prosperity to his country. I speak, of course, about Thomas Isidore Noel Sankara, the man they refer to as Africa’s Che Guevara.
At age 33, he seized power and had one motive: to flush French imperialism out of Burkina Faso. And he did it! In just four years, this man achieved for his country what some of these thieves and frauds masquerading as heads of state and modern-day revolutionaries can only but achieve in their wildest dreams.
Sankara devised socio-economic programmes that encouraged self-sufficiency, effectively giving the so-called experts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank fresh lessons on how Africa had the potential to succeed on its own, provided there was the political will to act in the interest of the people. A week before he was killed by an assassin’s bullet in a coup d’etat he had famously remarked: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
Malema and Kasukuwere, in their usual complexes, have said the same things but of course, acted differently, exposing their breathtaking double standards. They simply do not have the political will to see through what they preach because they are not prepared to suffer, like Sankara, the huge sacrifices that come with such desires.
In Malema’s case, however, things may pan out differently. He is already arguing that he has the political will to rid South Africa of its glaring inequalities but the ANC stands in his way because it has become complicit in undermining its own revolutionary aspirations as captured in the Freedom Charter, a sacrosanct document of the party.
Could it be the case that in the near future as we – a formerly oppressed people – search for newer and much more contemporary icons, and as the reality of how economically disempowered we are as a result of previous systematic oppression sinks deep, people like Julius Malema and Saviour Kasukuwere will become our struggle icons, economic freedom fighters whose messages resonate with our own aspirations as a people not only seeking restoration of human dignity but also looking to become captains of industry, business magnates and tycoons, people who own the means of production and have firm “acquaintance with the actual and potential resources of their country’s soil and mineral deposits” and are therefore able to speak eloquently and authoritatively on what exactly needs to be done in order to get such wealth working for everyone and not just a select few?
Are we edging closer to that point where we are willing to openly say, “I may not agree with Malema’s personality but the man does have a point”? If we are, then we also need to ask if we are prepared to deal with the potential chaos that will ensue, more visibly on the stock market as investor confidence shakes. And it will shake.
This is where talk of South Africa becoming another Zimbabwe comes in. I have previously argued that this will not happen. Yet, it will be dangerously naïve to assume that upsetting the status quo will not come with requisite consequences. One, therefore, should ask what needs to be done to minimise the damage and fallout to prevent “another Zimbabwe” before we can all scream “Eureka!”.
In South Africa, for example, the land question has made a safe landing among the black middle-class, a people who previously never seemed to care much about that resource but are now awakening to the fact that indeed, “the land is the economy and the economy is land”, to borrow a former Zanu-PF election slogan. The irony!
In both South Africa and Zimbabwe, the black middle-class is one that has given the harshest criticism yet to people like Malema and Kasukuwere. The African intellectual revolutionary, Frantz Fanon, describes this class as one that is “not engaged in production, nor labour; it is completely canalised into activities of the intermediary type. Its innermost vocation seems to be to keep in the running and to be part of the [capitalist] racket.” (That quote is worth another read.)
And perhaps this is what all those who have derided Malema and celebrated his expulsion from the ANC have missed. The same thing happened with Kasukuwere in Zimbabwe. And it happened also on April 3 2010 when those of us who are neither Zanu-PF nor ANC sympathisers were left intellectually and morally conflicted by Malema’s visit to Zimbabwe.
Although the media will throw the “prominence” news value on Malema as the reason why he still features on their front pages and news bulletins, they secretly know too well that he is onto something. If he was not, and since the ANC has said, for example, there shall be no nationalisation whatsoever, Julius Malema should not be making the news any longer quite frankly.
But he is, still.
For me, the most telling statement from Malema is one that was delivered at a certain church in Soweto, ahead of his initial disciplinary hearing. The gospel according to Julius Malema on that Sunday was wrapped around this: “The church must protect successful black people because today every successful black person is a criminal. When one of our own is under attack, instead of protecting that person, we join the chorus [of attack]. And you don’t know that actually, in joining the chorus, you are undermining the work of God, because these are products of God.” You will need to have been to one of the so-called prosperity churches to understand the power and relevance of this message.
Hence, the broad church of voices that has come out in support of Malema is not concerned with the well-being of the individual. Rather, all these voices feel quite aggrieved that their dreams, hopes and aspirations of someday driving a GL 500 Merc as owner of a plantation and not just its manager or worse, casual worker, are under severe threat from the very same people who pledged to get them there but seem to have now forgotten what the core mandate is. You do not need to be in the ANC to know what the core mandate is. You do not even need to like Julius Malema for you to know this mandate. Your own sense of economic justice as a person who was once systematically disempowered is sufficient.
Hence, beyond the entire hullabaloo, South Africa – and not just the ANC – will need to conduct some critical introspection, be brutally honest with itself and sastisfactorily answer the question of “economic freedom in our lifetime” for it remains unanswered, Julius Malema or no Julius Malema.
As for Zimbabwe, it needs to be pointed out to the likes of Kasukuwere that farming, for instance, is not done on television, radio on newspapers. Owning the means of production actually means producing something and these products – the real revolutionary gains – need to be seen and felt and not just heard as mere rhetoric.