Julius Malema is such a polarising figure. We loathe and love him in equal measure. He shakes us in our comfort zones by confronting the compromises of our leaders. He makes us discuss, yet again, what the liberation struggle was about. Did political power for the black government mean an end to apartheid and the legacy it bequeathed? This is what society is discussing, thanks to Malema. Even the apolitical youth find themselves discussing politics, whether agreeing with him or not is immaterial. You either hate or love me. You are seldom in-between.

It is Malema who dusted the Freedom Charter from the archives of the ANC and brought it back to national discourse. It was Malema who took the politics of the SACP and merged it with that of the PAC and bam came the Economic Freedom Fighters. He has woven the radicalism of such stalwarts as Peter Mokaba and the late Steve Biko. Perhaps that is why Andile Mngxitama praises the EFF as the organisation where the children of OR Tambo, Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe are worshipping under the same roof for the first time.

While he reminds us of the promises of the liberation struggle he also scares us of a possible fascist future, perceived or real. This is why Max du Preez simply cannot understand what attracts nice people to the EFF. It is easy to attribute the surge of the EFF to Malema’s eloquence and ability to capture audiences with rhetoric.

We can also say that he is feeding on the carcass of the disbanded youth league and a weakened, divided Cosatu. But it is the response of white society to Malema’s politics that makes nice people join or support the EFF. Each time the word Malema is mentioned in newspapers and social media, white people go on a tirade reminding us of his previous opulence, crass materialism, tax evasion, dodgy deals and “corruption” as disqualifying him to speak for the poor, as if those who follow him are so stupid they don’t know this.

This is racist, it seeks to present black people as nitwits, not discerning enough to see even when they are being duped in broad daylight by charlatans like Malema. I have read many online comments about the EFF. They are never about its policies but degenerate to disparaging remarks about Malema the person in the same way that Zuma is mocked and insulted as a brainless nincompoop not worthy of leading this country.

I agree, we can never explain the EFF or even the ANC outside of the behaviour, utterances and conduct of its leaders. But there has to be a point where we draw the line and are able to appreciate that “nice” people can join the EFF or even the ANC convinced of its policies and not per se the leader. As Dali Mpofu recently stated, he disagrees with Malema on many things but in so far as he needs to fight the right-wing policies of the ANC he struck a tactical alliance with him. To question those who join the EFF given the cloud hanging over Malema’s head is to suggest black people have no brains to make informed choices.

I have no doubt in my mind that Zuma and Malema are not the best the country can produce but I reckon black people refuse to be told by their previous oppressors what is best for them. For example, I am one of the few people who have never understood why Zapiro continues to depict Zuma with a showerhead except to mock and ridicule him despite him holding the revered office of president. He said stupid things about HIV and the shower, I can hear you say. He apologised and I believe we forgave him, just as we forgave all those previous apartheid leaders.

It is these things that polarise race-relations in the country, particularly given how deep the scars of the past are. I think white people would do a good service to the country if they engaged and told us why land redistribution, nationalisation etc is wrong and stop playing the man. While still at it, they could also deal with Zuma and his performance as head of state. If this is not done I fear black people will continue to think white society wants to “monitor” and “supervise” them lest they make the wrong political choices. I remember an interview with Malema on SABC2 a few years ago. He was asked about his Breitling watch and how he was able to afford it.

Malema gave a coy smile and bellowed: “I have refused to discuss my watch because no one knows whether I bought it or if it was given to me. Whenever a black man is having something that white people think are an entitlement only to their kith and kin, they have to question us because in their minds we can never afford these things unless we are corrupt.” This response got me thinking about the attitudes we have of each other. The unfortunate part is that Malema indeed is an arrogant and browbeating cocky rooster whose shady past disqualifies him to claim the left space. But black people don’t want to be told this by white people.


Manqoba Nxumalo

Manqoba Nxumalo

Manqoba Nxumalo is a journalist, social-justice activist. Follow him on twitter @NxumaloManqoba

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