Are the fortunes of South Africa’s political enfant terrible – African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) President Julius Malema – falling? Hasn’t he been recently called a ‘drama queen’, a ‘sound bite politician’ and a ‘joke’? Was he was not effectively booed out of a political conference, by his own South African Communist Party (SACP) comrades nogal? Boy, did Malema take it hard! Surely he should have expected that kind of reception if not worse. After all the insults he regularly hurls at others and more specifically his recent tirades against certain SACP leaders; he surely did not expect applause as he walked into that meeting hall, did he? Booing and heckling are normal and widespread in political gatherings. Surely, Mr Malema should know this.

Since then, both his intelligence and his political usefulness have been put in doubt by some – or at least they have tried. Deborah Patta of ‘Third Degree’ (ETV programme – South Africa’s version of the BBC Hard Talk programme) fame, certainly tried very hard to prove that Malema was dim-witted. When all else failed she, in apparent desperation, asked Malema why he appeared to be putting on weight – for which he blamed a certain brand of beer. Now we know what he drinks. Even the African National Congress (ANC) – in a recent Montlathe (Deputy President of the country) media briefing – came close to suggesting some kind of disciplinary measures for ‘members who defy’ the party. All this, not so long after ‘presidential’ Malema was showered with praises by President Jacob Zuma at a rally in Lipompo. Many have since suggested that the time may have come for the liability called Julius Malema to be either silenced or dumped altogether. Malema has himself provided his detractors with easy and ready-made reasons for such calls. He often shoots from the hip. He is often tactless and brutal with his words.

The country has a Malema dilemma. I suspect that most South Africans love Malema. Okay, some will love to hate him while others hate to love him, but operative word is ‘love’. Those who love to hate him need him to continue to blunder and, in their eyes, make a fool of himself. For such people, his antics provide proof that Malema and ‘his like’ (whoever those are) are up to no good. Serious detractors and competitors of the ANC may even see Malema as a ‘useful idiot’ who helps them in their battle against the ANC. Such people need Malema to continue doing what he ‘does best’, namely, embarrass the ANC. These people are probably found both inside and outside of the ANC. We must therefore not be fooled by the half-protestations that emanate from such people. The truth is; they love it when Malema blunders. They need him to blunder, sometimes goading him to it. Should Malema be silenced or dumped such will be the sorrow (not joy) of such people they will pursue him nevertheless, alternatively they will soon find or invent another Malema.

My other suspicion is that, there is a section of society which is smitten with Julius Malema and they hate themselves for helplessly and secretly falling in love with Julius Malema, again and again. Malema is like a comedian, satirist or village prophet who gets to vocalise the things we know, think and feel but dare not acknowledge, let alone verbalise. Poor Billy Masetlha, he tried to make a Malema move on COSATU and the SACP. They all came down on him – comrades and foes alike – like a ton of bricks. He has not uttered a word since. Not so with Malema. He seems to have earned the right to utter the un-utterables. He alone has permission to make humburgers of party and alliance holy cows. Nay, he received nobody’s permission; he gives permission to himself again and again. When Malema defended Jonathan Jansen as ‘one of our own’ he spoke for millions. When he wondered loudly and publicly whether Jacob Maroga was being targeted because of his dark skin, he spoke for hundreds of thousands. When he described the post-Polokwane YCL threat for the SACP to go it alone in the next election as a COPE-like move, believe you me, there were many ANC nodding heads all over the country. Malema appears to be one of the few who can talk at and talk after such post-Polokwane alliance heavyweights as Mantashe, Nzimande, Motlanthe and others.

Do not silence Malema, I say. While I often cringe with sheer embarrassment at his often irreverent turn of phrase, I still prefer a Malema press conference than a Jackson Mthembu (official ANC spokesperson) one. After an alliance summit such as the recent one, I need Malema to speak. Not Jessie Duarte. Not Jackson Mthembe and not Blade Nzimande. If and when the reported high level alliance meeting takes place as a follow up to the recent SACP Polokwane saga, give me three minutes of a Malema comment and keep your thirty minute post summit press conference. My reason is simple. I learn more about what is going on in the ruling party and in the alliance from Malema’s outbursts and indiscretions than I would ever know from official spokespersons. Whatever they do, I pray they will neither silence nor dump Malema. Face it South Africa; you need and love, your Malema dilemma.


  • Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination with ideas, a passion for justice, a crazy imagination as well as a big appetite for music, reading and writing. He has lectured briefly at such universities as Hamburg in Germany, Lausanne in Switzerland, University of Nairobi in Kenya and Lund University in Sweden - amongst others.


Tinyiko Sam Maluleke

Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination...

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