On Monday, 1 August at 6.15pm, I called up the Google Website on my five-year-old Acer laptop, typed in the words “Julius Malema” and hit the ‘enter’ key with a little flourish of my index finger.
There were 1.49-million references to the ‘Shit-stirrer of Seshego’.
Give him his due, Malema has mastered the art of making the front pages of newspapers and the opening sound bites of news broadcasts on television and radio his own whenever he wants to (or needs to).
And this despite the fact that he and the media have never been the best of friends.
To me, he is an intriguingly complex figure.
Some South Africans see him as a buffoon; others regard him as a champion of the poor. Still others have described him as worryingly or, perhaps, deliberately naïve. But love him or hate him, he is nobody’s fool.
The way he has been able to wind up so many of those who loathe him, by turning them, even in the comfort of their own homes, into spluttering case studies of irrationality (very much like himself when he’s with his followers), will probably go down as ‘a best practice in causing havoc in the ranks of your enemies’.
How does he do it?
Here’s my theory, based on personal experience (in a manner of speaking): Over the years, I saw hundreds of people pack halls in townships and rural towns to hear politicians promise them things they’d been promised a hundred times before. The modus operandi of these politicians and their advisers went beyond a rent-a-crowd scenario. They were much more cunning than that. Remember, Ministers (or MECs) need crowds to listen to them drone on about: ‘This year my department will spend no less than blah, blah millions of rands on you.’
At my first meeting, I looked around at a largely listless audience and wondered: ‘Why the hell did you come here to listen to this crap?’
But silly me … the answer hit me in the face right at the end of proceedings. It was such an eye-opener. The real crowd puller, I discovered, was Colonel Sanders, in the form of hundreds of packs of Kentucky Fried Chicken waiting to be handed out to the hungry crowd.
And so it went on – Kentucky here, Nando’s there … a township aunty winning a small tender to do the catering somewhere else. Another day … another town … another vote guaranteed. Or so these politicos thought.
It was – and still is – all about the 2 Pees.
Patronage and politics have become inseparable in South Africa – and ALL politicians have become better and better at playing the game.
Of course, it’s nefarious and divisive and ugly – but the rewards have been great … for some.
No one has been able to play the 2 Pees better than prancing Julius Sello Malema. Only thing is, he doesn’t deal in chicken wings. This man about town … this champion of the poor … this windbag of note … has become so good at giving and receiving that he has become very wealthy – and, with it, increasingly arrogant.
Many of Malema’s supporters believe that criticism of his lifestyle and the way he expresses his political views – and, especially, the questions that have been raised around the origins of his wealth, are grounded in racism. And in many instances this is probably true.
But those who defend him do themselves a great disservice by projecting – unwittingly perhaps – the actions of supporters of the deposed apartheid regime as a benchmark for political and business behaviour in 2011. It is sad beyond words to read about people, who should know better, justifying the actions of the new elite, by saying: ‘The Nats were much worse than this’ … ‘PW Botha’s government would have tortured you to death’ … and ‘Why don’t you criticize corrupt whites.’
Sorry, but one step up from evil is still evil, in my book.
In any case, those who bore the brunt of apartheid need no reminding of those dark days – mainly because the vast majority of them are still experiencing dark days, as ongoing service delivery protests have highlighted.
In the South Africa of today, it may be a bit much to expect the behaviour of office bearers of national organizations such as the ANCYL to be beyond reproach. But we must do whatever we can to force it to act with integrity – even though the current ANCYL, seemingly drunk with delusions of grandeur, listens to no one … often not even to itself.
No one is saying that its officials should not be robust in their dealings with people they believe to be political enemies. But really, their way-over-the-top personal attacks on figures as politically diverse as SA Communist leader Blade Nzimande, City Press editor Ferial Haffajee and Democratic Alliance official Lindiwe Mazibuko can only be described as a bloody disgrace.
There’s one other thing: public figures, who appear to be living beyond their means, should be prepared to be probed. It’s got nothing to do with racism or jealously. Our democracy needs space to grow – and the only way it will get that room – is if you and me, and millions of fellow South Africans, get off our butts, hold the Malemas of our country to account and claim the rights our constitution guarantees us to help transform our country into the beacon of opportunity we all looked forward to when we voted in 1994, and afterwards.