By Theo Mapheto
No doubt, Julius Malema must be the most talked about politician in the country. In the northern suburbs, no dinner table chit-chat is ever complete without a blow-by-blow account of his latest exploits; his woodwork skills being the common butt of jokes and all. Adding fuel to water, President Zuma has issued by far his sternest rebuke — at least publicly — of the headline-grabbing youth leader. Damn, he even went as far as hinting that Malema might not even make the cut in the next elective conference of the ANC Youth League. This couldn’t come at a more inopportune time, what with the recent goings-on involving Malema’s memorable tussle with the Young Communist League. A death knell to the upstart’s political career, some say.
You may want to put the champagne on hold. Malema is not about to disappear from the radar screen. Not now, not ever!
As clichéd as this may sound, Malema is a voice for the voiceless. At the last count, the majority of young people in the villages and townships were twiddling their thumbs with no prospect of finding any gainful employment. In Malema they see one of their own, an autie who can say it like it is. Because of apartheid’s funny spatial realities, many in the suburbs haven’t the faintest idea of what goes on in the ghettoes.
Let’s face it, the Rainbow Nation is a monumental farce; I cringe every time the Arch swoons about it. It is clear here that wishful thinking (you see, the Arch is an eternal optimist) is at odds with practical reality. How many white South Africans support South African soccer teams? I guess soccer is unattractive until Manchester United or Liverpool jet into the country.
These are very uncomfortable questions to ask, hence Malema is the sacrificial lamb on the altar of political correctness. Since the halcyon Mandela years, we have excelled in papering over cracks to the fallacy that is the Rainbow Nation. We make the mistake of thinking that an interracial hug in celebration of a Springboks win (for that is the only time that South Africans rally behind a single cause) seals the non-racial pact of Mandela et al. And we get despondent once the rainbow mirage — excuse the pun — is exposed for what it is. Forget the argument that HIV does not cause Aids, that is the very height of denialism.
I suggest a solution. Take time to look beyond the rhetoric and reflect on what the young man says, particularly on thorny issues we conveniently put on the back burner of our national consciousness. Rather than dismiss his statements as kindergarten claptrap, this should be a cue to engaging on an honest discussion about race relations. Yes, about black dispossession and white privilege, and more. About fear that motivates the Brandon Huntleys — he of Canadian infamy — of this world!
If we don’t engage in meaningful dialogue, there will be many Malemas demanding change*.
*Tomorrow, this may not be a Nando’s joke but something more ominous.
Theo Mapheto is a lawyer, youth activist and legal commentator