With elections lurking, developments in the political scene have created a political conundrum for the poor and disenfranchised: do they vote on loyalty or for change? The recent announcement of new political entrants, particularly Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang and Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters, has meant the poor have new choices to make.
With due recognition of the fanfare that characterised Ramphele’s Agang, Malema’s political comeback has drowned the razzmatazz that should have otherwise defined the run down to the official launch of Agang. If we were to be crude with words we would say he stole the thunder from the good ol’ doctor. Instead, we are now fixated with what Malema brings to the table, speculating on which political heavyweight might join him and whether or not he will upstage his adversaries and score major victories come election time. And no one doubts Malema’s ability to court the media, the one platform that will keep him on everyone’s lips right up to the elections.
His party announcement could not have come at a better time — when the Mandela generation, or is it born-frees, (as the DA-aligned would say) will be voting for the first time. With the majority of South African voters being young people it remains to be seen if Malema will appeal to that segment of the population.
Malema’s comeback has rekindled an otherwise sterile if not downright boring South African politics. Even the pundits are excited while the ANC has been united under a common enemy. Malema’s comeback is reminiscent of how King Shaka reclaimed his throne after being pushed out as heir to the Zulu kingship. OK my Zulu compatriots will take offence equating their heroic icon to a brash, allegedly corrupt motor mouth. But still the point is that those who wrote his political obituary have been proven wrong.
Maybe, just maybe, Malema could be a latter-day version of Nelson Mandela; going to prison (on corruption) and coming back to find that the ideas he stood for have won the day. OK wrong comparison there. I apologise profusely to Tata. Moving on, no one doubts the capacity of South Africans to revolt and in Malema they see a cauldron to guide them to another phase of the revolution. Mandela delivered on a generational mandate and Malema is admired as a leader to “take the revolution to its logical conclusion”.
Now picture yourself as one of the protesting residents in Khayelisha or a shack dweller in Alex. What choices do you have? Do you vote for the same ANC government, which has promised on many occasions and not delivered, at least from your point of view? Do you vote for the Democratic Alliance against your own internal perceptions that this party is for the affluent and rich, white capitalists? Perhaps, you would want to do so, not because you identify with the party and its policies but because you want to show your disapproval of the ANC. Better yet you may decide to vote for the new entrants, Agang. But from a not-so-politically astute point of view, Agang is a black version of the DA appealing more to a disillusioned middle class and liberal whites. These parties, you reason, oppose the ANC “on superficial issues” as Malema would say.
Now enter Malema and his Economic Freedom Party. First Malema will draw you by his eloquence and ability to speak the language that was banished to the struggle years, the radical language of revolution, white enemies, nationalisation and sell-out blacks in government politics. Those with political nostalgia will buy his rhetoric while those sympathetic on how he was expelled will worship him as a cult hero.
You see, the masses are not as discerning as the average Mail & Guardian reader. They want someone to speak their language. If you are seen as suffering (read prosecuted) for speaking for them, all the better. After all people in Alex look over at Sandton and say that freedom was for those with the Gucci bags who boast of having degrees. They have seen the ANC rule for over 20 years but their material conditions have not changed. Political change has not meant anything to them. They still go to mud schools, still relieve themselves in open toilets if not buckets and worse still they raise successive families in shacks.
Some of his constituency will be those within the ANCYL who genuinely bought into the economic freedom struggle. Malema will sell himself as the Simón Bolívar of the South African revolution. With his political au fait to draw from, he will remind the masses how they have been forgotten by a “selling out ANC” and harp on and on about Zuma and the Guptas.
The masses will cheer on and others will vote for him even. Lost in all this will be the real Malema: a brash, manipulative and dictatorial cocky rooster. After all Moeletsi Mbeki once warned that “development is not just bricks and mortar; real development involves the intellect and culture. Mortar and bricks are just symbols”. Whoever said the masses are never wrong must have been smoking some potent, high-grade Swazi stuff.