Tinyiko Sam Maluleke
Tinyiko Sam Maluleke

Malema, Botes and the Thula Thula society

What does Julius Malema have in common with Annelie Botes? Apart from their chubby faces, that is. She and Malema are going places – each according to their considerable talents. Both hold views generally regarded as shocking on people they consider to be “the other” – blacks in the case of Botes and whites in the case of Malema. Botes announced in a widely publicised interview that she does not understand, trust or like blacks. She is scared of blacks and avoids them because they are needlessly angry, criminal, murderous and lazy. For his part, Malema also states that whites are criminals and thieves of land and wealth. He provided the most animated defence of the “shoot the boer” song. More recently he has vowed to lead an economic war geared, among other things, at wrestling land and wealth from whites.

Nationalisation and land appropriation without compensation are the main strategies in Malema’s proposed war. A cursory glance at his speeches will reveal how the words “education” or “skills” are rare if not altogether absent. Scary.

Botes and Malema seem to share a penchant for saying things they need not say; things that could easily be left unsaid without raising any eyebrows; things that should be left alone. When asked in an interview to name people she does not like did Botes have to name blacks and do so in those terms? Really! Could she not have used a more inclusive and more neutral category of people – eg smokers, drinkers, snorers or liars? Similarly did Malema really have to call whites criminals at a time when his party needed white votes? Did he have to say all those horrible things about the woman who accused Zuma of rape — even with the hindsight knowledge that Zuma was acquitted?

One need not like Botes as a person. One has every right to be disappointed and angry at her shocking and racist views about black people. But, believe you me, Botes is one hell of a writer! Her novel Thula Thula is by far the most powerful books I have read in 2011. It is a shocking and riveting novel. In this novel, Botes typically tackles the taboo subject of incest. Written mainly from the perspective of a white child victim of incest tracking her through adolescence up to her messed-up adulthood years, the novel unbundles, layer by layer, dark national traditions and even darker family practices that provide a fertile ground for incest to flourish and be sustained across generations.

It is a disturbing read that is definitely not for the young or fainthearted. There are aspects and sections of the Thula Thula story that are brutal in description, raw in emotion, chilling in the pictures painted and quite shocking in the display of human depravity. The reader may be forgiven for asking whether Botes had to serve such literary gore and provide such narrative shock treatment, page after page. In this book, Botes the writer behaves like a hardened and cruel tour guide. Instead of taking you to the beautiful landscapes, the high mountains, the coastline highways and the tall skyscrapers, she takes you through the dark and humid spaces, the backyards and the rubbish dumps of society. There she rummages vigorously and finds the filth that society is hiding and throwing away. Ever so carefully, she stacks up the dripping filth and throws it at the feet of the reader. I have read few authors who are as fierce with words, so relentless with their story, breaking it up into little chunks of throbbing shockwaves. Using her pen as a dagger she pierces the heart, boggles the mind and unsettles the soul.

Similarly, Malema is not the most likeable. Many regard his views as half-baked, reckless and plain dangerous. I am yet to see anyone win an insulting contest with Malema ie those who are foolish enough to enter the muddy ring from within which he operates. No one is safe or out of bounds when it comes to his sharp tongue.

Love him or hate him, Malema is the “hottest political property” on our political landscape. Don’t believe me. See how the media runs after him. Note how they turn every phrase he uses into a headline and every word of his into a story. Like Botes, Malema the tour guide, does not take his visitors on a lekker jol down the botanical gardens of rainbow South Africa. He has carefully studied the political landscape. He knows exactly where the fault lines are. He knows where the scars, the open sores and the stinking wounds are hidden. He has studied the rugged terrain of tattered dreams buried in the sunken eyes of unemployed rural youth. He knows how to manipulate the shredded hopes of hungry rural women and angry urban youth.

Realising all the taboo issues society and its leaders will not talk about, he makes a point of speaking of these and doing so in the most brazen, disagreeable and uncouth manner. In the absence of visionary leadership, he has stepped forward and presented his own vision. It is not the best vision but it seems like the only one on the table. In the absence of an honest and vigorous discourse about the continuing disparities, he has stepped forward to frame the discourse of anger and threats. In the absence of a clear national agenda for substantive economic transformation, Malema has thrust nationalisation and land appropriation as the only far-reaching interventions capable of addressing the country’s economic woes. In the absence of courage to speak out on difficult and taboo issues Malema has demonstrated his courage by speaking often about the naked emperor — despite the nakedness of his own emperorship. Now S’dumo Dlamini, Zwelinzima Vavi, Blade Nzimande, Jacob Zuma and many others, can only react and do some damage control. Malema leads, they follow.

In the Thula Thula society, one guards hideous family secrets, one pretends that all is well, one looks after one’s own, one speaks only when one’s direct and personal interests are at stake, one abuses one’s own children and then proceeds to sing thula thula lullabies as the children die slowly. For all their famous weaknesses, Malema and Botes, each in their own way, is refusing to thula.